Deadly rip currents possible off Jersey Shore
As Tropical Storm Chris makes its way up the East Coast this week, the Coast Guard is warning the weather could be dangerous for those in and on the water.
Boaters should beware of wind, waves and decreased visibility. Rip currents are also a "significant threat," as they are caused by the turbulent sea states before and after a storm, the Coast Guard said on Monday.
"Swimmers are urged to only swim at beaches with active duty lifeguards and to follow local advisories at their beach for beach closures and rip currents," the Coast Guard said in a press release on Monday.
It also urged mariners "to put safety first and operate within their vessel’s parameters and not to go out in heavy weather."
Rip currents have already proved deadly this year, so the Coast Guard urged swimmers to check local weather forecasts before venturing into the water, and to never swim after hours or without a lifeguard present, because "lifeguards are highly trained and are the first line of defense when beachgoers are swept away by rip currents."
The Coast Guard also urged all swimmers and mariners to wear life jackets, as these devices can be the difference between life and death.
What are rip currents?
Rips are powerful currents of water moving away from the shore. They can move faster than an Olympic swimmer, and can sweep even the strongest swimmers out to sea.
According to the United States Lifesaving Association, rip currents account for more than 80 percent of rescues by surf beach lifeguards.
How do they form and how can I spot them?
While permanent rip currents can form along jetties, groins and piers, the location varies for the rips most responsible for dragging swimmers into deeper waters.
Caused typically by gaps in sandbars, rip currents occur when the water transported to the shoreline builds up enough pressure and flows back out to sea.
Dr. Jon Miller, director of the ocean engineering program at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, said a series of nor'easters this winter moved a decent amount of sand from the beaches out into the ocean as sandbars, and the sand will eventually make its way back to the beach with milder weather.
"Generally speaking, sandbars come back onto the beach fully anywhere from June to July, and that's when we see our maximum beach widths," Miller said. But the threat of rips remains.
Lifeguards typically know the hot spots in their area, but you may be able to keep yourself out of a dangerous situation by identifying areas where waves aren't breaking.
You can also look for an area of unusual choppiness or discoloration. With a good eye, you can probably spot strong currents moving away from shore.
What should I do if caught in a rip current?
It may be easier said than done, but don't panic and don't fight the current. Staying calm will help you conserve energy and stay above water.
Swimmers are advised to swim parallel to the shore, out of the current. Being in the grip of a rip current is like running on a treadmill you can't turn off — you want to step off to the side.
When out of the current, swim at an angle away from the current and towards shore.
Lifeguards should be keeping a close eye on the water as well. Don't swim off an unguarded beach.
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