As Hurricane Christobal tracks east of the North Carolina coast this week, it will send rough surf and moderate to strong rip currents to our beaches. With so many of us soaking up the last few days of summer with the long Labor Day weekend, it is important to understand what a rip current looks like (there are various kinds) and how to escape one if you are caught being swept out to sea. This photo was taken in Oak Island in September of 2002 when Tropical Storm Edouard passed by several hundred miles off our coast, much like Christobal is doing this week.
How many rip currents can you spot in this one photo from Oak Island?
There are at least 5 that are clearly visible.
Source for following: NOAA
Rip currents are powerful, narrow channels of fast-moving water that are prevalent along the East, Gulf, and West coasts of the U.S., as well as along the shores of the Great Lakes.
Moving at speeds of up to eight feet per second, rip currents can move faster than an Olympic swimmer.
Panicked swimmers often try to counter a rip current by swimming straight back to shore—putting themselves at risk of drowning because of fatigue.
Lifeguards rescue tens of thousands of people from rip currents in the U.S. every year, but it is estimated that 100 people are killed by rip currents annually. If caught in a rip current, don’t fight it! Swim parallel to the shore and swim back to land at an angle.
While the terms are ofter confused, rip currents are different than rip tides. A rip tide is a specific type of current associated with the swift movement of tidal water through inlets and the mouths of estuaries, embayments, and harbors.