Rip Current Awareness Week begins June 4

May 31, 2006

By Dr. Philippe Tissot

Rip Current Awareness Week begins June 4 The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and its components, including the Texas Sea Grant College Program, want every swimmer to know how to survive an encounter with deadly rip currents. To educate the public about the dangers of these fast-moving currents of water, NOAA is holding its second national Rip Current Awareness Week beginning Sunday, June 4. Rip currents cause at least 100 deaths each year at United States coastal and Great Lakes beaches and can sweep even the strongest swimmer out to sea. “The rip currents can be strong, and they form particularly around structures — jetties, groins and piers,” said Dr. Philippe Tissot of Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, who recently completed a Texas Sea Grant-funded research project studying rip currents in South Texas from Port O’Connor to the Mexican border. “People should avoid swimming close to the piers and jetties. Rip currents form at other locations, but the ones near structures are probably the most important to focus the message on because this is also where the parking lots are and where people go to the beach.” Looping or circular currents have been associated with rip currents in two locations — between the jetties and pier in Port Aransas and on the north end of the Packery Channel jetties in Corpus Christi. “When caught, swimmers will go in a circle, making it more difficult to exit the current and swim back to shore,” he said. Tissot’s surveys of surfers, fishermen and other beach users indicate that mild rip currents form daily in South Texas, while strong and dangerous rip currents are usually observed in conjunction with the passage of tropical storms, hurricanes or strong frontal passages with high winds or high surf. He noted that Texas’ strong longshore current, which contributes to rip current formation, can itself be a danger, especially to young children. “The current moves pretty quickly, and kids can get in trouble just because of that. Even without being taken out to sea, just being moved laterally, they could lose their balance.” NOAA and the United States Lifesaving Association (USLA) recommend that beachgoers learn how to swim and never swim alone; be cautious at all times, especially when swimming at unguarded beaches; and whenever possible, swim at lifeguard-protected beaches and obey all instructions from lifeguards. A rip current is a horizontal current. Rip currents do not pull people under the water — they pull people away from shore. Drowning deaths occur when people pulled offshore are unable to keep themselves afloat and swim to shore. If you are caught in a rip current, NOAA, Texas Sea Grant and the USLA recommend the following strategy: •Remain calm to conserve energy and think clearly. •Don’t fight the current by trying to swim straight to shore. •Escape the current by swimming in a direction following the shoreline. When free of the current, swim at an angle — away from the current — toward shore. •If you are unable to escape by swimming, float or tread water. When the current weakens, swim at an angle away from the current toward shore. •If you feel you will be unable to reach the shore, draw attention to yourself — face the shore and call or wave for help. Many people have died trying to rescue rip current victims. If you see someone in trouble, get help from a lifeguard. If there is no lifeguard, yell instructions on how to escape, throw the victim something that floats and have someone call 9-1-1. Some clues that may indicate the presence of a rip current include a channel of churning, choppy water; an area with a noticeable difference in water color; a line of foam, seaweed or debris moving steadily seaward; and a break in the incoming wave pattern. However, these signs are not always visible. English/Spanish posters, table tents and brochures about rip currents are available from Texas Sea Grant at sgpublications@tamu.edu or by calling (979) 862-3767. Additional information about rip currents also is available at NOAA’s web site at www.ripcurrents.noaa.gov.

For more information: Dr. Philippe Tissot Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi 361-825-3776 ptissot@cbi.tamucc.edu

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Texas Sea Grant is a unique partnership that unites the resources of the federal government, the State of Texas and universities across the state to create knowledge, tools, products and services that benefit the economy, the environment and the citizens of Texas. It is administered through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and is one of 33 university-based Sea Grant Programs around the country. Texas Sea Grant is a non-academic research center in the College of Geosciences at Texas A&M University. The program’s mission is to improve the understanding, wise use and stewardship of Texas coastal and marine resources.