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Here's Why There's Concern Over Hurricane Larry's Rip Currents

Know what (and what not) to do.
Know what (and what not) to do. Photo Credit: National Weather Service

Although Hurricane Larry won't get within 700 miles of the East Coast, the National Weather Service says it does pose an indirect -- and potentially deadly -- danger.

Unlike Hurricane Ida, Larry won't bring rain, floods, howling wind or tornadoes. The concern is in the sea.

A year ago, Hurricane Teddy was blamed for a rip current drowning in New Jersey, a week after Hurricane Paulette stirred waves that produced two others in the Garden State and South Carolina.

Fast-moving channels of water from Hurricane Lorenzo caused eight East Coast deaths, including those of two Rockaway Beach teens, in 2019, the National Weather Service reported.

Over the past few days, more than 100 rescues were reported in Florida and dozens more up the coast through North Carolina due to rip currents from Hurricane Larry. Thankfully, no deaths have been reported.

Since the National Weather Service began tracking Larry, it has veered toward Bermuda, with slight variations, before eventually curling northeastward -- in other words: away from us. 

Also remaining constant are swells caused by intense winds blowing over the Atlantic. The swells eventually reach shallow water near the shore, producing rip currents beneath breaking waves.

The powerful currents flow away from the beach at up to eight feet per second and can stretch nearly 100 yards from the shoreline. There's your danger.

Rip currents ordinarily occur at low tide at beaches with breaking waves, jetties, rock or piers, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA). They can also last for several days, even after a hurricane has passed.

Don't confuse them with an undertow. As the NWS says: "A rip current pulls you out, not under.”

Lifeguards rescue an estimated 30,000 swimmers from rip currents nationwide each year, the NOAA reports. An average of nearly 100 people a year are also killed, it adds.

All of which makes what might appear to be a fairly nice day in the water weather-wise -- with water temperatures still above 70 degrees -- not worth the risk. You may think you're going in up to your waist, but before you can blink you'll be over your head.

Those who are caught in rip currents are urged to ignore the instinct to immediately try and swim back to shore. Even the strongest swimmers will exhaust themselves and drown.

Swimming parallel to shore is the only answer, the NOAA says. The rip current channels are narrow and you can get out of the current quickly.

If you see someone caught in one,  get a lifeguard or dial 911 -- don't swim out there yourself, the association warns.

You can try tossing a lifejacket, cooler or anything else that floats while shouting instructions to the person to swim parallel to shore.

“Many have died trying to help others,” the NOAA notes. “Don’t become a victim (yourself).”

The association advises those at the beach to pay particular attention to red (high risk) or yellow (moderate risk) flags. And whatever you do, listen to your lifeguards.

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