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Over 150 Rescued from Rip Currents at North Carolina Beaches in Five Days

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In the past week, over 160 swimmers were rescued from rip currents along North Carolina beaches. According to the National Weather Service (NWS) in Wilmington, North Carolina, 164 rescues took place from June 18-22 in New Hanover County, with 95 of these occurring at Carolina Beach alone.

The NWS attributed the hazardous currents to an east-southeast swell combined with the full moon. As of Tuesday, the NWS continues to warn of a moderate rip current risk from New Hanover to Pender County and a high risk from Coastal Onslow to Shackleford Banks.

Rip Current Incidents This Summer

Rip currents have been a significant danger at southeastern beaches this summer. On June 20, two people drowned at Stuart Beach on Hutchinson Island, Florida. By June 22, four individuals had died within 48 hours off Panama City, Florida.

Understanding Rip Currents

Rip currents are powerful, narrow channels of fast-moving water flowing from the shore out to sea. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), they typically extend from near the shoreline, through the surf zone, and beyond the line of breaking waves. They form when waves break near the shore, creating a buildup of water between the breaking waves and the beach, which then rushes back to sea through a narrow jet of water. Rip currents can range from 10-20 feet in width to up to 10 times wider.

How to Identify a Rip Current

Rip currents often form at low spots or breaks in sandbars and can occur at any beach with breaking waves. Signs of rip currents include:

  • A channel of churning, choppy water
  • A noticeable difference in water color
  • A line of foam, seaweed, or debris moving steadily seaward
  • A break in the incoming wave pattern

What to Do if Caught in a Rip Current

If you find yourself caught in a rip current, follow these steps to ensure your safety:

  • Relax: Rip currents pull you out to sea but do not pull you under.
  • Swim Parallel: Swim parallel to the shore instead of against the current.
  • Float or Tread Water: Keep yourself afloat until you can swim out of the current or are rescued.
  • Signal for Help: Yell and wave to draw attention to yourself.

If you see someone else caught in a rip current, alert a lifeguard, call 911, or throw them a flotation device. Do not enter the water without a flotation device to attempt a rescue.