SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) -
Hurricane Zeta made landfall just after 5:00 pm and it has increased the waves along Suncoast beaches. Areas with piers and jetties are more likely to have a higher risk for rip currents compared to other gulf coast beaches without these structures. Where piers, jetties, or other obstructions exist, rip currents are formed when water pushed up against the obstruction by waves and side-currents is forced out to sea in one direction. Always keep a safe distance away from any pier, jetty, rocks, or other obstructions that jut outward into the surf zone.
“Rip currents can also form where there’s jetties, thus the rescue at the South Jetty in Venice yesterday. It can also happen at piers because of the way those structures are in the water, and how they divert water,” says Scott Montgomery, Sarasota County Lifeguard Chief.
One resident who grew up in California and now lives in Venice remembers the time she had to break the grip of the rip.
“It’s very frightening because it really does feel like you are losing control and you’re having to go with the current. It can be scary when it pulls it out,” says Barbara Rehmer.
This year Sarasota County has implemented a beach flag warning system. It was a system created for residents to easily identify potential beach hazards. If you go to a beach without a lifeguard on duty or without any beach flags, use situational awareness to determine if the water is safe to swim in.
“When you are going to the beach you will see a portion of the beach that doesn’t seem the same as the surrounding water. It could be that it’s dirty, maybe it’s got foam with it or different types of characteristics than the rest of the water, that’s what is considered a rip current,” says Montgomery.
Beach flags provide information on swimming conditions:
- Green - good swimming conditions
- Yellow - use caution
- Red - dangerous swimming conditions
- Double Red - beach is closed to swimming
- Purple -hazardous marine life
Statistics show that rip currents cause more fatalities each year than lightning for the state of Florida.
“Rip currents fatalities average about 16, lightning the long-term average is 9,” says Daniel Noah, Meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
If Caught in a Rip Current:
Never fight against the current, however swim out of the current and in parallel to the shoreline. When out of the current, swim at an angle and away from the current before heading towards shore. If you are unable to swim out of the rip current, float or calmly tread water and don’t be afraid to yell for help.
The National Weather Service continues a rip current state through Thursday evening for a high risk for rip currents. The increased wave action and swells from Zeta will hang around although Zeta is expected to be well inland tomorrow.