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Florida rip current warning: Hundreds rescued from rip currents' grip in 2 days

Florida rip currents caused more than 100 rescues on Monday as these invisible, yet very dangerous underwater currents can instantly change an ocean swim into a battle between life and death. Red flags and warnings are posted all along Daytona Beach as the unofficial start of summer has brought people from all over the nation to Florida’s sunny beaches, according to NBC News on May 26.

Florida rip currents cause hundreds of rescues this Memorial Day weekend.
Florida rip currents cause hundreds of rescues this Memorial Day weekend.NOAA

Lifeguards rescued more than 120 people on Monday and Sunday the total rescues topped 100, mostly all of these people were caught in a rip current, sometimes referred to as "rip tides" or "under tows." While the signs and flags warn folks that danger lurks, unless you’ve experienced the terror of getting trapped in the surf’s powerful underwater current, you have no way of knowing how dangerous this really is.

Rip currents can swiftly carry you out far from the shore and no matter how good of swimmer you may be, swimming against a rip tide to get back into shore is almost impossible. These fast-moving channels of water have been clocked at eight feet per second. This is how quickly a swimmer can be carried away from shore, in less than 20 seconds, you can find yourself more than 100-feet offshore.

The distance that a rip current can carry you varies. The rip current can end just beyond the line of breaking waves or it can continue hundreds of yards offshore, according to NOAA.

These underwater channels of currents tend to be stronger when the surf is bigger and the length between the waves is shortened. They “increase with height and wave period increase.”

NOAA explains how rip currents form:

“As waves travel from deep to shallow water, they will break near the shoreline. When waves break strongly in some locations and weakly in others, this can cause circulation cells which are seen as rip currents: narrow, fast-moving belts of water traveling offshore.”

Teresa Lattimore watched in horror as her 10-year-old-son was caught in the rip current’s dangerous channel of swift moving water on Monday. He was rescued by the lifeguards, but as she spoke with the media she suffered a panic attack from the ordeal and had to leave the beach. “My heart almost stopped beating,” Lattimore said.

If you get caught in a rip current, swim parallel to the shore, this is your best bet for survival. Trying to swim into shore will tire you out quickly as the current carries you further out to sea. Swimming parallel to shore allows you to swim out of the grips of the rip current and then you can swim into shore.

Unfortunately when someone is caught in this situation, their first instinct is to swim toward land, which can be a deadly mistake. According to NOAA’s statistics, more than 80 percent of water rescues that occur on surf beaches consist of pulling people out of the water who were caught in a rip current.

Can you see a rip current from shore? Yes sometimes you can, but sometimes there is no way of knowing that you are about to enter a rip tide.

NOAA offers some clues to look for:

“A channel of churning, choppy water
An area having a notable difference in water color
A line of foam, seaweed, or debris moving steadily seaward
A break in the incoming wave pattern”

Seeing any of these patterns in the ocean doesn’t necessarily mean a rip tide is present. The average beach goer will find it extremely difficult to identify a rip current by sight. “Polarized sunglasses make it easier to see a rip current,” according to the experts at NOAA.

Contrary to popular belief, rip currents do not pull you underwater. Drowning deaths in rip currents occur when people are unable to keep themselves afloat or tire themselves out trying to swim into shore. Sometimes referred to as “undertow” and “rip tide” the correct terminology for these currents are rip currents.