If you're planning to cool off in the ocean on Memorial Day, be careful of the high risk of rip currents at the beach, where ocean rescue officials said they made more than 220 rescues in Brevard and Volusia counties over the three-day weekend.
According to your Weather Experts, the rip current threat will be high Monday during the peak beach hours between 9:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Those conditions kept lifeguards up and down the coast busy Sunday. Because there were so many beachgoers, Volusia Beach Safety and Ocean Rescue had to shut down entrance ramps from New Smyrna Beach to Ormond Beach as folks tried to get to the beach to beat the heat.
Add rip currents to the mix, and it was a busy day for lifeguards. Red flags, which signify hazardous conditions, were flying Sunday afternoon, too.
"We've had to close off seven or eight beach approaches because we are at capacity," said Capt. Tammy Marris, of Volusia Beach Safety and Ocean Rescue. "Not to mention we are having a very hazardous rip current conditions, and we've had to rescue at least 85 people."
With an elevated rip current risk Monday, lifeguards have asked swimmers to stay near lifeguard stands.
If you get caught up in a rip current, you should swim parallel to the shore until you are out of the rip current and then swim back toward the shore, lifeguards said.
Staying cool a must on hot holiday
As people sought relief from the sweltering heat by cooling off in the ocean Sunday, lifeguards and first responders had to treat several people for heat exhaustion.
If you plan to spend the day outside, be sure you have sunscreen, an umbrella and plenty of cold drinks to keep cool. Light clothing and a hat will be a must out in the sun, even if it appears to be a cloudy day.
Keep an eye on your kids on crowded beaches
As if the heat wasn't enough, lifeguards were also trying to find missing children on the crowded beaches Sunday.
"They go run down to the water to have a good time, they turn around and lose their spot," said Jeff Scabarozi, with Brevard County Ocean Rescue. "The best thing to do with the children is talk to them, and pick your landmark and make sure when they get out the water, they turn around and look for it to get back to where you're sitting."
Scabarozi said Brevard Ocean Rescue gets reports of 40–60 children missing on the beach every weekend.
Why rip currents form
As waves travel from deep to shallow water, they will break near the shoreline. When waves break strongly in some locations and weakly in others, this can cause circulation cells which are seen as rip currents: narrow, fast-moving belts of water traveling offshore.
Why rip currents are dangerous
Rip currents are the leading surf hazard for all beachgoers. They are particularly dangerous for weak or non-swimmers. Rip current speeds are typically 1-2 feet per second. However, speeds as high as 8 feet per second have been measured.
How to identify rip currents
Look for any of these clues:
- 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
Note: Polarized sunglasses make it easier to see the rip current clues.
How to avoid and survive rip currents
- Never swim alone.
- Be cautious at all times, especially when swimming at unguarded beaches. If in doubt, don't go out.
- Whenever possible, swim at a lifeguard protected beach.
- Obey all instructions and orders from lifeguards.
- If caught in a rip current, remain calm to conserve energy and think clearly.
- Don't fight the current. Swim out of the current in a direction following the shoreline. When out of the current, swim towards shore.
- If you are unable to swim out of the rip current, float or calmly tread water. When out of the current, swim towards shore.
- If you are still unable to reach shore, draw attention to yourself: face the shore, wave your arms, and yell for help.
- If you see someone in trouble, get help from a lifeguard. If a lifeguard is not available, have someone call 911. Throw the rip current victim something that floats and yell instructions on how to escape. Remember, many people drown while trying to save someone else from a rip current.