New NOAA rip current forecast model aims to keep beach swimmers safe

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Posted at 1:18 PM, Apr 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-19 22:25:31-04

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. - Beach season and cooling off with a refreshing ocean dip is fast approaching, but with that fun and sun also comes some dangers.

"Rip currents are inward directed jets of water that can occur anywhere you have breaking waves, and they can travel the speed of an Olympic swimmer, so very fast," said Dr. Greg Dusek, senior scientist with NOAA .

Dusek says each year, 100 lives are claimed in the U.S. due to rip current drownings, 10 of which happened on the North Carolina coastline in 2019.

"If you are caught in one, don't panic; it is the worst thing you can do," he said. "You want to float or swim parallel to shore and stay calm."

Related: Tips on how to survive a rip current

NOAA has recently launched a new rip current model more than 10 years in the making, aimed at preventing those deaths and close calls.

"It predicts that likelihood every hour and six days into the future along every kilometer around the beach," said Dusek.

"The model was developed and tested on the Outer Banks in Kill Devil Hills, with the lifeguards playing a vital role," said Dusek.

"Lifeguard data was instrumental in terms of they were the eyes on beach and they provided the information, and so that data enabled us to generate the model," said Dusek.

The older forecast model provided just a generic rip current forecast that was only updated twice a day. The new model is far more accurate, giving forecasters, lifeguards and the community much more information.

"This information is critical to public safety," he said.

Dusek says in addition to listening to the forecast, always position yourself on the beach near help if needed.

"The number one thing you can do when you go to the beach to be safe is swim near a lifeguard. You have a smaller chance of drowning then if you were swimming on an un-guarded beach," said Dusek.