Improving rip current forecasts
By Kathryn MacDonald, NOAA Sea Grant
Rip currents are the leading surf hazard for all beachgoers. They are particularly dangerous for weak or non-swimmers. If you get caught in a rip current, stay calm; don’t fight the current. You can escape the grip of the current by swimming parallel to the shoreline. Once you are free of the current, swim at an angle away from the current towards the shore to safety.
These steps have saved lives. Thanks to the efforts of Sea Grant, the National Weather Service (NWS) and the United States Lifesaving Association (USLA) they can be found on pamphlets, websites and signs on beaches across the country.
At the beginning of the 2013 summer, representatives from NWS, USLA and Sea Grant got together to identify what was needed to launch the Rip Current Pilot Project and to solidify a longstanding partnership. The Rip Current Pilot Project would allow lifeguards to collect real-time observational beach hazard data and pass it along to the NWS throughout the beach-going months. The NWS will use these observations to enhance rip current forecasting, including rip current forecasts for beaches in your area.
Collaborations among these organizations date back to 1981, when Sea Grant helped the USLA develop guidelines for establishing open-water recreational beach standards. Along with the NWS, they have a long history of working together and have collaborated to post informational signs on beaches across the country, to organize Rip Current Awareness Week, and to develop the Lightning Safety Program.
The Sea Grant, NWS, and USLA partnership will continue to focus on public safety as it relates to beach hazards, but will now also emphasize real-time, data collection for enhanced forecasting and warnings. “Near-real time observations of rip currents and other marine hazards are a beneficial addition to the range of information that forecasters use to warn the public of potentially deadly threats,” said Mark Tew, chief of Marine and Coastal Weather Services at the National Weather Service. “This partnership between the NWS, USLA and Sea Grant will help protect lives along our coastlines as we strive for a Weather Ready Nation.”
Many Sea Grant programs have individual comprehensive rip current programs aimed at public safety. Recently, New Jersey Sea Grant Consortium worked closely with NWS and USLA as well as a team from the Stevens Institute of Technology to launch a Rip Current smartphone app to help lifeguards to collect important data about rip currents in 2012. Sea Grant programs often fund studies that assess how effective certain types of outreach are, such as a study funded by Texas Sea Grant where Dr. Chris Houser and Dr. Christian Brannstrom assessed beachgoer knowledge of rip currents, including if they can identify and avoid them. Many programs develop up-to-date materials to increase rip current visibility like Oregon Sea Grant, which developed “Beach Safety Basics”, a video that is shown in museums, aquariums, and on local television channels. Delaware Sea Grant and North Carolina Sea Grant offer high resolution posters for printing. The more information people have about rip currents, the safer they are.
Links to Sea Grant Rip Current Awareness Websites:
- California Sea Grant
- Delaware Sea Grant
- New Jersey Sea Grant
- New York Sea Grant
- North Carolina Sea Grant
- Maryland Sea Grant
- Michigan Sea Grant
- Minnesota Sea Grant
- Texas Sea Grant
- University of Wisconsin Sea Grant
aslo check out NOAA’s Rip Current Information Site