By: Brittney Samuels SL News Reporter
For the first time, NOAA is launching a national rip current forecast model, aimed at saving lives of beach-goers around the country. This new model can predict the hourly probability of rip currents along U.S. beaches up to six days out. Similar to predicting weather or precipitation, the model predicts the likelihood of dangerous seaward currents on a sliding scale from 0 to 100%.
A rip current, is a localized current that flows away from the shoreline toward the ocean, perpendicular or at an acute angle to the shoreline. It usually breaks up not far from shore and is generally not more than (80 feet) wide.
Some rip currents have been measured at 8 feet per second—faster than any Olympic swimmer ever recorded. If wave activity is slight, several low rip currents can form, in various sizes and velocities. But in heavier wave action, fewer, more concentrated rip currents can form.
“Safety for beach-goers and boaters is taking a major leap forward with the launch of this new NOAA model,” said Nicole LeBoeuf, acting director of NOAA’s National Ocean Service.
“Extending forecasting capabilities for dangerous rip currents enables
public safety personnel to better prepare for hazardous beach conditions and inform the public of potential for danger before they head to the beach.”
The forecast model covers a majority of the U.S. East and Gulf Coast and portions of California, Hawaii, Guam and Puerto Rico. Additional coastline coverage will be expanded in the future.
Further improvements are on the horizon and the application of webcam imagery and artificial intelligence identification of rip currents is showing promise across the research community.
Rip currents account for an estimated 100 deaths in the United States each year.
Because rip currents move perpendicular to shore and can be very strong, beach swimmers need to be careful. A person caught in a rip can be swept away from shore very quickly.
The best way to escape a rip current is by swimming parallel to the shore instead of towards it. A swimmer can also let the current carry him or her out to sea until the force weakens, because rip currents stay close to shore and usually dissipate just beyond the line of breaking waves.
Occasionally, however, a rip current can push someone hundreds of yards offshore.
The most important thing to remember if you are ever caught in a rip current is not to panic.
Continue to breathe, try to keep your head above water, and don’t exhaust yourself fighting against the force of the current.