Rip currents: Why they’re so dangerous and what to do if you get caught in one

Summer Weather

NARRAGANSETT, R.I. (WPRI) — Summer is here, which in Southern New England means plenty of days spent at the beach.

But a trip to the coast can take an unexpected turn if you’re not careful.

While going in the water can be refreshing, it can also be dangerous, with some hidden dangers lurking beneath the waves.

The biggest concern, especially at ocean-facing beaches, is rip currents. If a current is strong enough, it can sometimes be visible, so it’s best to speak to a lifeguard before entering the water to learn of the safest areas to swim.

Rip currents are driven by the waves, and as they crash onto the beach, the water recedes with forces strong enough to pull even the strongest swimmers further away from the coast.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), rip currents can be narrow or as wide as 50 yards across. Clues that a rip current may be present include a strip of darker, seemingly calmer water between areas of breaking waves, a channel of churning and choppy water, or a line of foam, seaweed or debris moving out to sea.

If you find yourself caught in a rip current, don’t try to fight it. Instead, swim parallel to the coastline until you’re able to turn back toward the shore.

It’s also important to remain as calm as possible and call for help if you’re unable to swim.

RIP CURRENT X656_54486

Riptides can be found in bays, inlets and jetties and are typically tidal-driven. As tides change from low to high, powerful currents within the water can pose a danger to swimmers.

Geography also plays a large role in terms of how these currents flow.

If you see someone struggling in a rip current, the NOAA recommends getting help from a lifeguard instead of trying to rescue them yourself. If a lifeguard isn’t present, call 911 and try to direct the swimmer to follow the shoreline to escape.

Earlier this week, a 10-year-old girl perished after she got caught in a cross current while on the sandbar at Conimicut Point in Warwick, and a 35-year-old man died trying to save her.

Connect with 12 News Meteorologist Steven Matregrano on social media:

Facebook – Steven Matregrano WPRI
Twitter – smatregranoWPRI
Instagram – smatregrano

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