Even when hurricanes stay out at sea, the Outer Banks can still be impacted by large swells and deadly rip currents, thus making it important to stay aware of the tropics and weather forecasts all throughout the hurricane season. Rip currents are channelized currents of water flowing away from shore at surf beaches. Rip currents are quite common and can be found on many surf beaches every day. They typically form at breaks in sandbars, and also near structures such as jetties and piers. While the risk of rip currents occurring along the North Carolina beaches increases when a tropical cyclone is out in the Atlantic, the risk increases when a tropical cyclone is moving toward the North Carolina coast, especially when the storm is a day or two away from making landfall along the Carolina coast.
Rip currents are dangerous because they can pull people away from shore. Every summer, Corolla Beach Rescue pulls many 100’s of people caught in rip currents out of the ocean. Rip current speeds can vary from moment to moment and can quickly increase to become dangerous to anyone entering the surf. Rip currents can sweep even the strongest swimmer out to sea. Some clues that a rip current may be present include a channel of churning, choppy water, a difference in water color, a break in the incoming wave pattern, and a line of foam, seaweed or debris moving seaward.
If you find yourself caught in a rip current, stay calm and 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 you feel you will be unable to reach shore, draw attention to yourself: face the shore, call or wave for help. Also, don’t become a victim while trying to help someone else! Many people have died in efforts to rescue rip current victims. Instead, get help from a lifeguard. If a lifeguard is not present, yell instructions on how to escape. If possible, throw the rip current victim something that floats. Call 9-1-1 for further assistance.