We will admit that late February is usually not the time most people are thinking about taking a trip to the beach to do some swimming.
Still, recent statistics released by the National Weather Service should have all of us thinking about our next trip to enjoy the nearby ocean.
The weather service released a report about deaths caused by rip currents, showing North Carolina ranked fourth in 2013 among the areas surveyed. Florida, not surprisingly, was first with 25 rip-current deaths, followed by Puerto Rico (18), South Carolina (nine) and North Carolina (seven).
The weather service said it released the survey in an effort to inform and educate beach-goers and tourists about the dangerous phenomenon.
Rip currents can form at any time along the beach but are more prominent at low tide. Water coming on shore in the form of waves naturally heads back to the ocean. Sometimes, all the water going back out forms powerful channels of flowing water that can pull even the best of swimmers out to sea.
Many times, a rip current can be identified as an area of water where big waves are not breaking on the shore. The water on the surface may appear calm — and thus inviting — but a closer inspection can reveal a strong current flowing away from the beach.
The most important thing to do if caught in a rip current is to stay calm and not fight against the current. The best way to avoid drowning in a rip current is to swim — not against the current in a direct line back to shore — but across the current, parallel to the shore.
Sure, even the best swimmer is still going to be pulled out slightly, but by swimming parallel to the shore, one eventually swims out of the rip current. At that point, it’s easier to get back to the shore, and the incoming waves can actually help in that process of getting back to the beach.
Sure, no one may be thinking of heading to the beach to take a dip now, but when that time comes, think about rip currents. Learn how to spot one from the shore. Know how to escape one. This way, one of nature’s best playgrounds can be a source of enjoyment rather than the site of tragedy.