For a full description of the program, see the NWA article entitled: East Central Florida Rip Current Program.
Rip currents are narrow channels of water flowing out past the surf zone that can pull even strong swimmers into deep water beyond the offshore sand bar.
Attempting to swim directly back to shore against the current, which can be as strong as 5 MPH, will result in exhaustion and in some cases, drowning. Since 1989, an average of 19 persons have died each year as a result of rip currents in Florida. Therefore, rip currents, on average, result in more deaths in Florida than hurricanes, tropical storms, tornadoes, severe thunderstorms and lightning combined. Many victims are tourists who are unfamiliar with the dangers of the ocean.
Data collected along the east central Florida coast shows that an average of 4-5 rip current-related drownings occur each year. Therefore, an empirical forecasting scheme was developed by the Melbourne office to warn beach goers when rip currents would be more dangerous than normal. Data was compiled from lifeguard rescue logs in the east central Florida coastal counties of Volusia, Brevard, Indian River, St. Lucie, and Martin.
The number of rip current rescues varies for each coastal county across east central Florida. Volusia county averages more rescues each year than all other counties in Florida combined. This is mainly due to the natural beach replenishment that occurs along the Volusia coast, which aids the development of offshore sand bars that are important for rip current generation. Additionally, a very high volume of people enter the surf at Daytona Beach. The Volusia county beach safety program is among the top five largest in the county. Lifeguards are well trained about the dangers of rip currents, which occur on a daily basis.
The remaining coastal counties of east central Florida have significantly less rip current rescues than Volusia county. However, there are an increasing number of people visiting the beaches of these counties, many of whom do not understand the danger of rip currents and attempt to swim where there are no lifeguards. Additionally, many local communities have plans for substantial beach replenishment where erosion has depleted beaches significantly in the past several decades. This will likely increase the formation of sand bars that help generate dangerous rip currents.
Increased public awareness is also a goal of the east central Florida rip current program. The media will be called upon to bring greater awareness of rip current danger to those who use the beaches. Tourists are especially vulnerable since they are often not knowledgeable about ocean dangers and often do not pay attention to the news reports while on vacation. Therefore, there are plans to utilize the media to increase rip current awareness.
All county offices having access to the normal suite of National Weather Service products receive statements indicating the threat of rip currents. The statements are also broadcast on NOAA Weather Radio so that individual lifeguard stations as well as the general public will be alerted.
Below is an example of an actual statement issued to alert the public and emergency management officials of the rip current threat:
EAST CENTRAL FLORIDA HAZARDOUS WEATHER OUTLOOK
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE MELBOURNE FL
700 AM EDT FRI MAY 30 1997
...RIP CURRENT THREAT REMAINS MUCH GREATER THAN NORMAL TODAY...
HIGH PRESSURE ALONG THE EASTERN SEABOARD WILL PRODUCE ONE MORE DAY OF MODERATELY STRONG EASTERLY WINDS. SEAS OFFSHORE WILL REMAIN IN THE 6 TO 7 FOOT RANGE THIS MORNING. WITH A CONTINUATION OF ONSHORE WINDS OF 10 TO 15 MPH...THE THREAT OF RIP CURRENTS WILL AGAIN BE GREATER THAN NORMAL. TRY TO SWIM AT BEACHES GUARDED BY THE BEACH PATROL. IF NO GUARDS ARE PRESENT...CONSIDER STAYING OUT OF THE WATER GREATER THAN KNEE DEEP. IF YOU ARE CAUGHT IN A RIP CURRENT...SIGNAL SOMEONE ON SHORE FOR HELP AND SWIM PARALLEL TO THE BEACH TO GET OUT OF THE RIP CURRENT...THEN SWIM TOWARD SHORE.
Check the latest NWS Melbourne Hazardous Weather Outlook to see if there is a greater than normal threat of rip currents today.
If you have any questions, suggestions, or comments regarding NWS Melbourne's rip current program, please send an email to Randy Lascody.