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Dangerous rip currents possible headed into 4th of July holiday

July 2, 2024

Florida’s warm waters and bright sunny beaches attract millions of tourists each year, but there's a hidden danger that is hard to spot from land, and it’s the driver of the biggest weather-related killer in the State: rip currents. These hidden dangers form when waves break near the shoreline, pile up water and form a narrow stream that flows quickly away from shore. Experts say it’s that extra pull that can panic swimmers, which can lead to fatigue and eventually drowning.

Beachgoers headed into the Gulf or Atlantic ocean for this 4th of July holiday should have better swimming conditions, but only for a few days. Forecasters with the National Weather Service warn that by the end of the week and into next weekend, treacherous conditions will return with potentially very dangerous rip currents developing as Hurricane Beryl enters the Gulf of Mexico.

Over the next day or so, NWS forecasters say risks in many areas will drop to moderate or low levels from the Gulf of Mexico to the mid-Atlantic. A moderate risk indicates that rip currents are still present and pose dangers, but it does not necessarily mean lifeguards will close off sections of beaches to swimmers due to hazardous conditions. However, a high risk of rip currents is expected to return the Gulf coast beaches the day after the 4th of July, and steadily increase into the weekend. As Hurricane Beryl approaches the Gulf of Mexico, wave heights and a long swell will start to increase and that means dangerous rip currents will be returning to many of the Gulf coast beaches.

Even though Beryl is not expected to directly affect Florida or the surrounding states, the National Weather Service warns that distant Hurricane Beryl will have a major impact on the beach and boating conditions for the 4th of July holiday.

Officials say many inexperienced swimmers run into trouble by attempting to fight against the outgoing force of water instead of swimming parallel to the shoreline. Most drownings along the state’s beaches are from out-of-state visitors who may not be well versed in the dangers of the ocean.

Last year, Panama City Beach’s rip currents drowned more people than anywhere else in the U.S., according to the National Weather Service. At least eight people died at the Gulf Coast community, making up nearly a third of Florida’s 30 deaths from rip currents. By comparison, in 2023, five people died after being swept up by currents in New Jersey. California, South Carolina and Louisiana each had three deaths.

During the summer, popular beaches carry hidden dangers: fast-moving channels can drag a swimmer away from shore and exhaust them as they try to fight their way back to safety. The National Ocean Service estimates thousands of people are rescued from rip currents each year in the U.S. About 91 people died in rip currents at U.S. beaches, according to weather service data. That was up from the 10-year average of 74 deaths per year.

The NWS recommends swimming near a lifeguard if you're at the beach. If you're caught in a rip current, it’s best to remain calm. Swim parallel to the shore, not toward it, until you’re free of the current. Then swim back to land. If you're unable to escape, face the shore and call or wave for help. Make sure to check you beach conditions here, before you head into the water this summer: https://www.weather.gov/beach/florida

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Sources include nearest National Weather Service office, National Hurricane Center, and the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network (@FloridaStorms).
Sources include nearby emergency management agencies, FEMA, and your local NPR affiliate. 
Sources include the Florida Department of Transportation, Florida Highway Patrol and other nearby traffic information.

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