Severe Weather Awareness: Rip Currents

It is day two of our Severe Weather Awareness week, and today we'll discuss rip currents and other marine hazards.

Though they may sound relatively harmless, according to NOAA, rip currents have killed more people in South Florida since 1979 than all other weather-related hazards combined. In 2013 alone six deaths were directly connected to rip currents and twenty one other individuals were sent to the hospital.


You've heard us talk about rip currents over the years, but you may not exactly know what they are or how they form.

Allow me to enlighten you...

Rip currents are simply strong channels of water that flow out past the surf zone, and they're caused by an onshore wind. So, for all of us here in South Florida, any wind with an easterly component will give us an elevated risk for rip currents. This is why they're referred to as "fair weather killers." The weather doesn't have to be bad to have strong rip currents. All you need is an onshore wind.

They're normally quite small, relatively speaking, and are only about ten to thirty yards wide.

Rip currents can catch even the most experienced swimmer by surprise, and if you've ever found yourself in one you know how terrifying they are. By knowing how they work and what to do if caught in a current, you can easily break the grip of a rip current.


Once you're caught in a rip current the worst thing you can do is panic and swim straight toward the beach. Panicking and swimming in this direction will only cause you to become even more exhausted.

Why? Because you're swimming against the current.

You want to remain calm and cognizant of your situation and allow the current to take you out to sea. You then want to swim either parallel or diagonally to shore. That's how you break the grip of a rip current... It's really is that simple.

It make sense doesn't it? Think about it, they're only ten to thirty yards wide. That's not far so just let it take you out and then swim parallel or diagonally back to the shore.


Rip currents aren't the only marine hazards we face. Strong winds with Florida thunderstorms can cause the seas to suddenly be rough, and distant storms can change the swell size. Large swells can sometimes be strong enough to overturn boats.

Along with that lightning (review the previous blog post titled "Severe Weather Awareness: Lightning") and waterspouts are always a threat with each storm in South Florida.


The best way to stay safe from all the above is to stay "weather aware." Beach and boating forecasts are updated several times per day and will give you the latest conditions and threats. You can also download our Storm Shield App which send you notifications if a watch, warning, or advisory has been issued for your area if you are out enjoying the South Florida sun.

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