If you are headed to the beach this summer there is a risk to keep in mind as you are swimming and playing in the ocean.
Rip currents can turn the ocean into a dangerous one.
“It can be anyone (to get caught in a rip current). Knowing what to do can save your life,” said John Cole of the National Weather Service forecast office in Newport, which includes Onslow and Carteret counties in its coverage area.
While no drownings have been reported in the area as the summer tourism season kicks in, there were at least two, and possibly a third, along the North Carolina coast last year known to be due to a rip current, Cole said.
The risk of rip currents is being highlighted through June 7 as part of Rip Current Awareness Week sponsored by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, Sea Grant, the United States Lifesaving Association and the National Park Service.
Cole noted that their website as well as those of partner agencies provide a wealth of information to help beach visitors familiarize themselves with the risk of rip currents and what to do if they are caught in one.
“There are several avenues to get rip current information,” he said.
For those headed to beaches in the area, the NWS offices in Newport and Wilmington provide beach and surf hazard forecast, including a rip current forecast issued twice daily.
The late afternoon forecast put out Monday shows a moderate rip current risk for today along the beach from Cape Lookout to Bogue Banks and from Bogue Inlet to Surf City, including Hammocks Beach and North Topsail Beach.
Rip currents are channelized currents of water flowing away from shore at surf beaches. According to NWS information, they typically form at breaks in sandbars and also near structures such as jetties and piers. And while they can happen any time, they are more likely around low tide.
Break the Grip of the Rip brochures and educational materials were developed to help inform beachgoers of what to do if caught in a rip current.
Don’t fight against the current, Cole said.
Rather, swim in a direction parallel to shore and once out of the current, swim at an angle toward shore.
“A lot of people panic and swim against the current, but rip currents are very strong,” he said.
At beaches where there are lifeguards, it is recommended that beachgoers check in with the lifeguard on duty and ask about rip currents that may be present.
In locations where there are not lifeguards, beach communities are taking steps to keep the public informed.
At some public beach accesses there may be colored flags indicating ocean conditions, including rip current risk.
North Topsail beach doesn’t have lifeguards but uses multiple ways to spread the word about the risk of rip currents.
Town Clerk Carin Faulkner said they have a rip current page on the town website, signs posted at public beach accesses and give brochures to rental agencies to distribute to visitors.
Faulkner said she has posted information on the town’s Facebook page for Rip Current Awareness Week but will continue to include rip current information links to the various resources on the page throughout the season.
She said that while local residents may be familiar with swimming in the ocean, those visiting may not.
“I think it’s really important to provide this information. There are people who come in from out of town who may be new to coming to the coast and the ocean,” she said. “Swimming in the ocean is not like swimming in a pool.”