Experts say most deaths from offshore currents are preventable. However, the number of annual deaths due to backflow has steadily increased since the National Weather Service began tracking them in 2010, reaching a record 130 in 2021, then falling to 85 cases last year. Offshore currents are the third leading cause of weather-related deaths between 2012 and 2021, after heat and flooding. by Weather Serviceand in a typical year, they kill more people than lightning, storms or tornadoes.
Offshore currents are narrow, strong currents that flow away from the shore and can suddenly sweep swimmers out into the sea. They can form on almost any breaking beach, especially near low points or breaks in sand, and near jetties or piers. It is difficult to predict where and when offshore currents will form because many weather and oceanic factors are involved. Weather Service warning that “offshore currents often form on sunny days.”
Weather Service list 26 flow-related deaths this year as of April 27, excluding the three deaths attributed to offshore currents on April 28 in destinyFla., May 6, year seaside cityMd., and May 12 at Cannon BeachOre. At this time last year, there were a total of 19 such deaths.
Beach safety experts are expressing disappointment that the death rate has trended higher again this year despite annual awareness campaigns, such as the American Lifesaver Association. National Beach Safety Week is held every year in the week before Memorial Day and recent improvements to break current projections.
“It is frustrating that we produce videos, graphics and educational information, and release them at the beginning of each ocean season,” said Scott Stripling, senior meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami. still make many people miss. An email. “The problem seems to be due to the media and/or lack of public attention.”
Flow forecasting and warning signs
Weather service released daily Forecasting of long-shore currents for beaches on the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf Coast, Southern California, Great Lakes, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. The projections categorize the offshore current risk as low, medium, or high and are informed by a recently developed NOAA longshore current model that distinguishes risks among neighboring beaches. Previously the same forecast could extend 100 miles or more.
However, the model does not allow reliable forecasting of the exact location and timing of the offshore currents. They are influenced by a number of factors including wave characteristics, water levels, winds, and the shape of the beach. Advances in artificial intelligence could help detect offshore currents — NOAA is working with the Southeast Coastal Oceanic Observation Area Association on a project uses AI to detect offshore currents in webcam images — but such efforts are still in their infancy.
In some cases, there are visible clues to the existence of offshore currents, such as breaking waves, bubbling water or objects being swept offshore, or darker waters. due to a broken sandbar. Often, however, the current is difficult to see far from the shore or is best seen from a high point such as a dune line or the top of a beach entrance.
Offshore currents are particularly difficult to detect in South Florida, where, the Weather Service speak, they “consistently rank at or near the top of lists of the most dangerous weather-related hazards,” because there isn’t much sediment to darken or cloud the shoreline. In Brevard County alone, home to nearly 72 miles of sandy beaches, there are eight apparent drownings due to offshore currents since November, all at beaches without lifeguards.
“We have clear water currents, so these offshore currents are difficult to detect,” said Stephen Leatherman, professor of earth and environment at Florida International University. “The best thing is to have lifeguards and let people swim near lifeguards. But lifeguards are expensive, and Florida has 825 miles of good quality sandy beaches that are swimmable most of the year.”
Warnings and tips for surviving offshore currents
Offshore currents flow at up to 5 miles per hour. That doesn’t sound fast, but it’s faster than many Olympic swimmers.
If you get caught up in a rip current, experts advise against swimming upstream, which can quickly exhaust you and drown you. Instead, swim parallel to the shore until you are out of the water, usually no more than about 50 to 100 feet wide. You can also escape by floating or kicking, allowing the current to take you out as soon as it breaks through the breaking waves, where many offshore currents tend to dissipate, then bring you back to shore. . However, some offshore currents can extend hundreds of meters offshore.
If you see someone being swept up in a backflow, experts advise against risking your life trying to swim unless you have been trained to do so and have flotation equipment to keep you safe. support you and the person in need. Instead, you should get help from a lifeguard or call 911 if there are no lifeguards available. You should also throw the victim something that can float, such as a life jacket, board, cooler, or ball, and shout instructions for escape.
Experts agree that the best way to survive an offshore current is to avoid it in the first place. That means checking the offshore current forecast before you get into the water, heeding warnings of strong currents or rough surf, and swimming only near lifeguards. The Lifesaving Association of America estimates the chance of someone drowning at a beach with lifeguards at 1 in 18 million.
Chris Houser, professor at the University of Windsor School of Environment and longtime beach safety researcher, said: “Lifeguards are trained to detect offshore currents and other hazards on the beach, and intervene when necessary. “While there is some evidence that individual beach users can be trained to spot rips, most beach users don’t know what to look for.”
US lifeguards are estimated to perform about 80,000 or more offshore current rescues each year, which suggests that warning and educational messages are not reaching as many people as experts would like. .
“If lifeguards are flying a precaution flag, and there are signs on the rescue counter identifying the possibility of a rip current in that area, and the National Weather Service and the media have advertise that there is at least a moderate risk of offshore currents present at your local beach, what else can we do? Stripling of the Weather Service said.