Coastal geologist describes factors that increase rip current risks

Published: Jun. 19, 2017 at 7:56 PM EDT
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With four deaths related to rip currents within the last two weeks, WITN is taking a closer look at how rip currents are formed.

Coastal geologists say it can be difficult to know if certain areas are more prone to rip currents than other areas along our coast. One of the main reasons is because the ocean floor is always changing, especially along the shore.

However, coastal geologists say that being aware of where sandbars are is important, because they can cause stronger rip currents.

Winds can also play a huge factor in where these rip currents can form, pushing water and sand towards the shore that causes the currents to form. That is why you can see a break in the waves and it's usually an area that looks calmer.

While there have been several deaths and dozens of rescues, experts say they don't necessarily think we are seeing an issue on our ocean floor that would cause rip currents to stay bad.

"This could just be an unfortunate set of circumstances where lots of people are getting caught in rip currents during a bad period, I mean, there are periods where rip currents are more frequent and they are right now," says Tony Rodriguez, a professor with UNC Institute of Marine Sciences.

Research is being done to help experts better forecast rip currents, which is done with the help of life guards who are monitoring what the conditions are like and how many rip currents they are seeing and where.

Officials say forecasting rip currents and the science behind how they form is important, but they also say that swimmers need to know their limits and when to stay out of the water.