Experts say no evidence of greater rip current risk along Crystal Coast

Published: May. 22, 2019 at 7:39 PM EDT
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With beach traffic increasing ahead of the Memorial Day holiday, beach goers wonder if they are at an increased risk of finding themselves stuck in a deadly rip current, which have already claimed 6 lives this year along the coast.

"Why can't people understand? They see it on the news, they see the flags, they see the signs. But yet they go out in there," exclaims Ray McWilliams, and Emerald Isle beach visitor.

They're the leading surf hazard for beach goers all around the country. The United States Lifesaving Association says 80% of all surf rescues are related to rip currents.

"We've definitely had more people caught in them this year, but that's all we can say," says Dr. Tony Rodriguez, a Coastal Geology Professor at the UNC Institute of Marine Sciences.

With six deaths along the crystal coast already this year, experts say so far there is no evidence to show swimmers are more likely to get caught in a rip current, even including the impacts of Hurricane Florence, and efforts to recover.

"You can't identify Hurricane Florence, beach re-nourishment, or different configurations of the coastline as one reason why we've had more, or if we've even had more or not," Rodriguez adds.

The same may not be true however, for Wrightsville Beach visitors in New Hanover County, where one oceanography professor says the storm shifted the Mason's Inlet Channel.

"There are places in that channel that where the water is going to be going faster than it used to be. And without knowing that, you think you can swim in there as you did before and now you're fighting against a current where you'd have to be faster than an Olympic swimmer to combat the speed of that current," according to Joseph long, from UNC-WIlmington.

Spencer Rogers, a colleague of Long's at UNCW, says his studies don't show an increase in the number or severity of rip currents, but varying patterns and types of currents; all of which he says swimmers must know how to combat.

Rogers says a rip current is typically about 10-30 yards wide.He recommends swimming the short distance to get out of the rip current, before making your way back to the shore.