Florida Lifeguards Hustle to Rescue 100 Swimmers From Treacherous Rip Currents

By Kristen Rodman, AccuWeather.com Staff Writer
May 28, 2014; 1:10 PM
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The unofficial start to summer this Memorial Day proved to be a nerve-racking day at the beach for many, as Florida lifeguards rescued more than 100 patrons from swift, dangerous rip currents.

Red flag warnings dotted beaches along the Florida coastline over the holiday weekend, forewarning beach-goers of serious hazards in the water. While swimmers are still allowed in the water during these advisories, lifeguards and rescue teams urge patrons to enter the ocean cautiously.

Red flag warnings are the most supreme warnings issued and usually indicate strong rip currents or surf.

As lifeguards rescued more than 100 people from Florida rip currents on Monday, May 26, 2014, according to ABC, Mother Nature granted beach patrol teams a break on Tuesday as the ocean was tame enough for guards to switch red flags to green.

More than 80 percent of surf beach rescues attributed to rip currents, according to the United States Lifesaving Association. Each year more than 100 people die from drowning in these currents.

A rip current is a strong, narrow current that moves away from the shoreline. The fiercest rip currents can reach speeds up to nearly 8 feet per second, carrying swimmers hundreds of feet offshore in mere seconds. While some rip currents end just beyond breaking waves, others can pull swimmers hundreds of yards offshore, according to NOAA.

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Known as a Bermuda high, a large area of high pressure often sets up off the Southeast coastline, which usually leads to an easterly flow of air across Florida. This wind can help build up higher surf and thus produce stronger rip currents when conditions are right, according to AccuWeather.com Meteorologist Eric Leister.

"Larger, more frequent waves tend to lead to stronger rip currents and a greater threat to anyone going in the water," Leister said.

A rip current forms near Melbourne, Fla., after Hurricane Jeanne struck Florida in September 2004. (Photo/NOAA)

Although rip currents are often invisible, there are some signs that can help indicate a rip current out in the water, including differences in water color, a line of foam, seaweed or debris moving out to sea, a break or disruption in the incoming wave pattern or a channel of churning water.

Despite subtle signs, however, rip currents are typically hard to spot thus making them even more menacing. Once caught in a rip current, swimming out of the current is nearly impossible.

"Swimmers should always swim parallel to the shoreline, then swim to shore once out of the current," Coronado, California, Beach Lifeguard Jamie Saffer said. "Trying to swim back to shore while in a rip current could cause the swimmer to actually go backwards."

If caught in a rip current, swimmers should float with the current and avoid fighting it. For more tips on how to survive in a rip current, see below.

When on the beach, always pay attention to lifeguard warnings and flags. If another swimmer is caught out in a rip current, it is essential to alert rescue teams immediately. Do not attempt to rescue the distressed swimmer.

How to Survive a Rip Current:

1. Always stay calm.

2. Do not fight the current.

3. Swim parallel to the shoreline while in the current. Once free of the current, swim at an angle, away from the current and towards the shore.

4. If unable to escape the rip current by swimming, float or tread water. Once the current weakens, resume swimming at an angle.

5. If unable to reach the shore, draw attention to yourself by waving or calling for help.


Have questions, comments, or a story to share? Email Kristen Rodman at Kristen.Rodman@accuweather.com or follow her on Twitter @Accu_Kristen. Follow us @breakingweather, or on Facebook and Google+.

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