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  • Jordan Monroe

Rip currents pose serious threat to beachgoers and students

As we move into October, the summertime weather has yet to die down for our fellow Coastal Carolina students.

The Carolina beaches always attract so many tourists and Coastal Carolina University students that want to be able to experience what all South Carolina has to offer. However, since Hurricane Florence has rolled through the Carolinas we could experience many more rip currents after this treacherous storm.

Rip currents are powerful, narrow channels of fast-moving water that are prevalent along the East, Gulf, and West coasts of the U.S., as well as along the shores of the Great Lakes.

Last May, North Myrtle Beach lifeguards responded to over 40 calls to rip current incidents. During the summer of 2018 in the Outer Banks, there had been at least 11 deaths from strong powerful rip currents in which almost all the victims had been pulled out to sea. Reports by NOAA from 1999-2013 have had a total of 29 South Carolina fatalities and 62 North Carolina fatalities from strong underwater rip currents.

Dr. Diane Fribance, a professor of oceanography here at CCU, has been able to give us a clear insight as to why there have been so many rip currents.

“Certain locations are more favorable for rip current formation,” said Fribance. “Rip currents can be divided into three basic categories. One, rip currents controlled by water-flow processes on beaches that have consistent characteristics along the coastline. Two, rips controlled by changes in the water depth along-shore making rip currents appear in fixed locations. Finally, rips that are formed by flow over manmade structures like jetties and piers or natural features like headlands.”

Both Carolina coasts include combinations of all these factors which makes the formation of rip currents more likely than other coastlines here on the eastern shore. From long term data, there is an average of approximately two rip current related fatalities in South Carolina per year.

As hurricane season reaches its peak there is a huge chance that the rip current frequency will increase due to offshore waves that are generated by the hurricanes despite them never reaching the coastline. Breaking waves are one of the requirements for a rip current formation to occur and offshore storms like hurricanes for example can produce swell waves which are lower amplitude and longer period which is basically more time from one wave to occur to the next.

Dr. Fribance also suggests that if you are caught in a rip current and you feel yourself getting pulled out to sea to always swim sideways, before trying to swim towards shore. Once you move horizontally (parallel to the beach) you can get out of the rip currents and avoid tiring yourself out before being able to make it back to shore. When there is an outward flow that is concentrated in a relatively narrow area it makes swimming to shore much easier once you have moved out of the strong outward flow.

The best advice to all you CCU beach lovers is to only go swimming when there is a lifeguard present where you are at on the beach. Also, pay attention when you see warning flags because you never what dangers lurk out there in the ocean and at the very least make sure you never swim alone. If you do happen to see someone caught in a rip current, try to get them something that floats to hold on to until help arrives and avoid getting yourself into the same dangerous situation as the person you are trying to save.

Be careful the next time you head to the beach for a relaxing day on a South Carolina beach.

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