NWS: Life-threatening rip currents Sunday

The ocean off South Seaside Park in 2017. (Image: Justin Auciello/for WHYY)

The ocean off South Seaside Park in 2017. (Image: Justin Auciello/for WHYY)

There’s a high risk of rip current development along the New Jersey coastline Sunday, forecasters say.

A high risk of rip currents means life-threatening conditions exist for all people entering the surf.

The National Weather Service says the risk is high because of a strengthening onshore wind and increasing seas. Easterly winds will be gusting over 30 miles per hour through the evening. Waves are breaking between five and seven feet.

Rip currents are powerful channels of water flowing quickly away from the shore, often occurring in low spots or breaks in the sandbar and in the vicinity of structures such as groins, jetties, and piers.

Forecasters say there’s also another risk that sometimes gets overlooked: injuries from waves.

A University of Delaware study has found that during the summer of 2014, there were 280 injuries over 116 sample days along the Delaware coast.

Of the 280, 32 were serious, including cervical fractures and spinal cord injuries, and one was a fatality. Wading was the dominate injury activity.

NOAA recommends that you memorize these five words: “always swim near a lifeguard.”

Here’s how to identify a rip current:

  • A channel of churning, choppy water.
  • An area having a notable difference in water color.
  • A line of foam, seaweed, or debris moving steadily seaward.
  • A break in the incoming wave pattern.

Rip current speeds vary, with an average pull of 1-2 feet per second, but some can move as fast as 8 feet per second, which is faster than an Olympic swimmer.

If caught in a rip current, NOAA advises:

  • Stay calm.
  • Don’t fight the current.
  • Escape the current by swimming in a direction following the shoreline. When free of the current, swim at an angle—away from the current—toward shore.
  • If you are unable to escape by swimming, float or tread water. When the current weakens, swim at an angle away from the current toward shore.
  • If at any time you feel you will be unable to reach shore, draw attention to yourself: face the shore, call or wave for help.

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