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Tropical Storms Churn Up Ocean At The Shore

A tropical storm more than 1,100 miles away is roiling the surf at the Jersey shore, snatching swimmers up in rip currents, keeping lifeguards on their toes and stranding some beachgoers on the sand during the last week of the summer season.

Long Beach Island on Saturday following closure
Long Beach Island (WCAU TV)

Tropical Storm Isaac is a major threat to the gulf of Mexico, but it’s also become an annoyance to New Jersey.

Beaches in many coastal communities have been flying yellow cautionary flags, allowing swimming but with some restrictions due to the rough surf. That can range from keeping bathers from going further into the water than ankle or knee-deep high, depending on conditions.

Lifeguards report an increase in the number of rescues they’ve had to make in the last few days as rip currents strengthen.

WHAT IS A RIP CURRENT?

According to the National Weather Service, rip currents can occur along any coastline that features breaking waves. Scientific investigations of wave and current interactions along the coast have shown that rip currents are likely present on most beaches every day as a component of the complex pattern of nearshore circulation.

As waves travel from deep to shallow water, they eventually break near the shoreline. As waves break, they generate currents that flow in both the offshore (away from the coast) and the alongshore directions. Currents flowing away from the coast are called rip currents.

Rip current
How rip currents form (NOAA)

How to Identify Rip Currents

Look for a channel of churning or choppy water or an area with a recognizable difference in water color. Pay attention to any lines of foam, seaweed or debris moving steadily seaward or any breaks in incoming wave patterns.

Signs that a rip current is present are very subtle and difficult for the average beachgoer to identify. Look for differences in the water color, water motion, incoming wave shape or breaking point compared to adjacent conditions. Look for any of these clues:

  • Channel of churning, choppy water
  • Area having a notable difference in water color
  • Line of foam, seaweed, or debris moving steadily seaward
  • Break in the incoming wave pattern
  • One, all or none the clues may be visible.

What To Do If You Get Caught In A Rip Current

  • Try to remain calm to conserve energy.
  • Don’t fight the current.
  • Think of it like a treadmill you can’t turn off. You want to step to the side of it.
  • Swim across the current in a direction following the shoreline.
  • When out of the current, swim and angle away from the current and towards shore.
  • If you can’t escape this way, try to float or calmly tread water. Rip current strength eventually subsides offshore. When it does, swim towards shore.
  • If at any time you feel you will be unable to reach shore, draw attention to yourself: face the shore, wave your arms, and yell for help.

The National Weather Service & the Associated Press contributed to this story.

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