Water aware: Watch those rips!

from Mark Wilson at Surfside Beach last January

As travel quickly resumes to normal, I can only imagine the crowds coming to the beaches for spring break. With good reason, the National Weather Service has declared this week Rip Current and Beach Hazard Awareness Week. Last year, one rip current death occurred along Texas shores with as many as 76 nationwide.

To be sure, thousands of water rescues occur each year along U.S. beaches. Anyone who has been to a beach knows how the waves push you toward the shore (nothing is more fun than good body surfing!) and you’ve felt the water rushing back and away. Water ebbs and flows. A rip current flows wider and faster and can pull you quickly to deeper water where you can’t stand up. At that point, swimming against the current will only tire you out, like walking a treadmill eventually will do. It’s then that people drown -- unable to call for help, even if there is any, and too tired to resist.

Spotting a rip current before even getting in the water is, obviously, the best approach and it’s easier than you think. Here are a couple of examples. In this first one, the rip current has been enhanced in green. Just click on the water!

Here’s another. Again, just hit play.

In a phrase: Go for the foam! Rip currents are moving away from the shore, thus they do not create those foamy, white-capped waves. And if you are caught in a rip current, try to swim toward those white caps which would be to either side. Never try to swim against the current -- that is what will tire you out. If you swim parallel to the shoreline, you will soon be out of the current and can then swim to shore.

Here are the facts and safety advice from the NWS Houston:

Take a moment to read those safety tips

One final note: that single Texas death from a rip current last year happened in none other than Surfside Beach. In fact, I’ve been asked by Surfside officials there to always mention rip current alerts for them when there is one for Galveston because usually the same conditions exist! So take note and be safe!


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About the Authors:

KPRC 2's chief meteorologist with three decades of experience forecasting Houston's weather.

Amanda Cochran is an Edward R. Murrow award-winning journalist. She specializes in Texas features, consumer and business news and local crime coverage.