OCBP warns of rip currents from Bertha

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Ann Richardson / Big waves and rip currents kept lifeguards busy on Tuesday as Tropical Storm Bertha made her way up the East Coast. At North Street, lifeguards made two rescues, requiring multiple guards to rescue several victims. Overall, lifeguards made more than 25 rescues. Ann Richardson / Big waves and rip currents kept lifeguards busy on Tuesday as Tropical Storm Bertha made her way up the East Coast. At North Street, lifeguards made two rescues, requiring multiple guards to rescue several victims. Overall, lifeguards made more than 25 rescues.

OCEAN CITY — Rough seas and rip currents kept lifeguards busy Tuesday, Aug. 5 as Tropical Storm Bertha made her way up the East Coast. The Ocean City Beach Patrol reported more than 25 rescues by 3:30 p.m.

“This is the leading edge, the swells started arriving about 11 o’clock this morning,” Senior Lt. Ron Kirk said Tuesday. “Prior to that, we had two foot waves. Within about 45 minutes, it went from two feet to almost five feet.”

Lifeguards, he said, pulled boogie boarders out of the water.

“When the waves get real big, the shore break can be treacherous for boogie boards,” he said. “With boogie boards, and surf boards, you can free fall. We have had a lot of neck injuries in the past.”

While Tuesday’s surf was challenging, Kirk said today (Wednesday, Aug. 6) promises to be even worse.

“Tomorrow will be bigger, at least for a while,” he said. “It depends on the wind. It can flatten out if the wind is blowing straight at them. It’s supposed to move out, it’s heading northeast.”

In August, the surf tends to be big and rip currents are more prevalent, he said.

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.

Rip currents’ speeds are typically measured at one to two feet per second, but can travel as fast as eight feet per second, meaning that they can sweep even a strong swimmer out to sea, Kirk said.

“You can spot them, it looks like a little river flowing out,” he said. “The water is a different color. It gets ripple-y, bubbly.”

When you see the waves coming in at different angles, beware, he said. Turbulence, he said, usually means a rip current.

If you see a rip current, there is usually a hole.

“The water flows in and flows back out where it finds a channel or passage,” he said.

Even good swimmers cannot out-swim a rip current, Kirk said.

“You swim laterally, away from the rip,” he advised. “Or you let it pull you out and let the lifeguards rescue you.”

In a rescue situation, guards will swim laterally or use a jet ski to save a victim.

The strength and speed of a rip current increases as wave height and wave period increase, he said.

Kirk said that rip currents most typically form at low spots or breaks in sandbars, and also near structures such as groins, jetties and piers. He said that rip currents are more prevalent in the north end of the island because of the jetties.

“Rip currents can happen at any time, they can form anywhere, the wind and tide are big factors,” Kirk said.

Bathers should be cautious even when there is a lull in wave activity, he said.

“They ocean lulls, that’s the way the ground swell is from a hurricane,” he said. “A lull can last four or five minutes, where the waves are almost non-existent. But when the sets come, they can show up with four or five foot faces.”

The transition from high to low tide can create even stronger rip currents, Kirk said.

The Ocean City Beach Patrol advises that bathers caught in a rip current should remain calm, and try to float or tread water, not fight a rip current.

According to the OCBP, rip currents cause approximately 100 deaths annually in the United States, more than all other natural hazards except heat and floods. 

“That’s why we are always reminding people to swim only at guarded beaches, to swim near a lifeguard,” he said. “Stay at a depth where you can touch. Don’t go out over your head, and swim in between the green flags.”

Ann Richardson / Big waves and rip currents kept lifeguards busy on Tuesday as Tropical Storm Bertha made her way up the East Coast. At North Street, lifeguards made two rescues, requiring multiple guards to rescue several victims. Overall, lifeguards made more than 25 rescues. Ann Richardson / Big waves and rip currents kept lifeguards busy on Tuesday as Tropical Storm Bertha made her way up the East Coast. At North Street, lifeguards made two rescues, requiring multiple guards to rescue several victims. Overall, lifeguards made more than 25 rescues.

Ann Richardson / Big waves and rip currents kept lifeguards busy on Tuesday as Tropical Storm Bertha made her way up the East Coast. At North Street, lifeguards made two rescues, requiring multiple guards to rescue several victims. Overall, lifeguards made more than 25 rescues. Ann Richardson / Big waves and rip currents kept lifeguards busy on Tuesday as Tropical Storm Bertha made her way up the East Coast. At North Street, lifeguards made two rescues, requiring multiple guards to rescue several victims. Overall, lifeguards made more than 25 rescues.

Ann Richardson / Big waves and rip currents kept lifeguards busy on Tuesday as Tropical Storm Bertha made her way up the East Coast. At North Street, lifeguards made two rescues, requiring multiple guards to rescue several victims. Overall, lifeguards made more than 25 rescues. Ann Richardson / Big waves and rip currents kept lifeguards busy on Tuesday as Tropical Storm Bertha made her way up the East Coast. At North Street, lifeguards made two rescues, requiring multiple guards to rescue several victims. Overall, lifeguards made more than 25 rescues.

Ann Richardson / Big waves and rip currents kept lifeguards busy on Tuesday as Tropical Storm Bertha made her way up the East Coast. At North Street, lifeguards made two rescues, requiring multiple guards to rescue several victims. Overall, lifeguards made more than 25 rescues. Ann Richardson / Big waves and rip currents kept lifeguards busy on Tuesday as Tropical Storm Bertha made her way up the East Coast. At North Street, lifeguards made two rescues, requiring multiple guards to rescue several victims. Overall, lifeguards made more than 25 rescues.

Ann Richardson / Big waves and rip currents kept lifeguards busy on Tuesday as Tropical Storm Bertha made her way up the East Coast. At North Street, lifeguards made two rescues, requiring multiple guards to rescue several victims. Overall, lifeguards made more than 25 rescues. Ann Richardson / Big waves and rip currents kept lifeguards busy on Tuesday as Tropical Storm Bertha made her way up the East Coast. At North Street, lifeguards made two rescues, requiring multiple guards to rescue several victims. Overall, lifeguards made more than 25 rescues.


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