July 21, 2008

Rip Currents Blamed for Increase in Beach Saves


By John Warren

The Virginian-Pilot


Don't be fooled by the lack of precipitation, beachgoers. Tropical Storm Cristobal is not your friend.

It's not what's in the sky that you have to look out for - it's underwater. Rip currents produced by the storm have led to an increase in the number of rescues by lifeguards in Virginia Beach and on the Outer Banks recently, lifeguards say .

Though Sunday's numbers were not available, on Saturday, 21 people were rescued, said Tom Gill, captain of the Virginia Beach Lifesaving Service. The service staffs 49 stands from the resort strip to 51st Street.

Lately, Gill said, there have been five to 10 rescues every day. Normally, this time of year, there are only one or two.

On the four-mile stretch of beach Kitty Hawk lifeguards patrol, nine people were pulled from the water Saturday.

The culprit, the lifeguard patrols say, are rip currents - narrow, fast-moving channels of water that flow from the surf to deeper water. When there are several days' worth of large waves, sandbars can break down. Water funnels through them, creating rip currents.

"It's a pretty subtle thing," said Bruce Nedelka, a Beach EMS division chief. "Before you know it, you're 50 yards out in the water.

When caught in a rip current, Nedelka said, swim parallel to the shore until you feel free of the current's pull. Many people panic and overexert themselves, he said.

That's the scenario that accounts for the rash of rescues on his stretch of beach, Kitty Hawk Ocean Rescue supervisor Terence Sheehy said.

In the first hour the Kitty Hawk beach was open Thursday, six people were rescued, Sheehy said - all of whom were struggling with rip currents. After that, flags flew on the beach for the rest of the day and all day Friday.

On the Outer Banks, the red flags mean stay out of the water. At the Virginia Beach Oceanfront, they mean ask the lifeguard. Depending on conditions, the red flag could mean don't go in over your waist one day; another day, don't go in above your ankles.

Lifeguards are watching for rip currents to fade with the storm over the next several days.

In the interim, Gill said: "Please swim near a lifeguard."

John Warren, (757) 221-5114, [email protected]

Originally published by BY JOHN WARREN.

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