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NOAA: Rip Currents Kill More than Sharks, Tornadoes, and Hurricanes

5:54 PM, May 1, 2012   |    comments
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ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. -- State officials are warning people along Florida's east coast of strong rip currents this week.


Tuesday, people played in the waves at St. Augustine Beach.

Megan Soto and her little girl, Summer, came off the beach around noon after getting in the water.

"It was a little rough," Soto said. "We were headed towards the pier but we stayed where it was shallow so we had more control."

Red flags flapped at the beach, warning beachgoers of strong rip currents.

Rip currents are currents which push water away from shore.

Some statistics about rip currents indicate how deadly they can be.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, rip currents killed more people in Florida in the last 25 years than hurricanes and tornados did combined.

You're 30 times more likely to die from a rip current than from a shark at the beach, according to NOAA.

The agency also noted that 80 percent of beach rescues in Florida are due to rip currents pulling people away from the shore.  

"It's not a huge surprise because of the number of people in Florida in the water," Jeremy Robshaw with St. Johns Fire Rescue said. The county agency overseas lifeguards on area beaches.

He pointed out another lesser known fact:  Rip currents are not necessary a function of surf.

That means rip currents can exist even when the waves are small.

Here's what to look for: "Choppy water that would otherwise be smooth. If you see brownish, turbulent-like sand stirred up, or water moving away from the shore," Robshaw said  

If you get caught in a rip current pulling you out to sea, Robshaw said try not to panic. "When you feel it stop pulling you, swim parallel to shore. Once out of the current, generally you can swim back without an issue."

Robshaw also noted lifeguards have learned that people who find themselves in a rip current will often panic and let go of their flotation device, such as a boogey board. He advised doing the opposite:  staying calm and keeping a good grip on the flotation device.  

Some people, like Soto, try to avoid any tugging water altogether.

"If the water's pulling too hard," she explained "we stay closer to the shore where we're not past our ankles! "


First Coast News

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