(WHTM) – Fourth of July weekend is approaching and some of you may be heading to the ocean or beach to celebrate.
However, before heading to the beach, some may want to take a moment to check the local wave conditions to minimize the risk of getting caught in a rip current while swimming.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), rip currents are strong, narrow seaward waterways that flow away from the shore and extend through breaker zones where waves form.
Sometimes erroneously called rip currents, rip currents can occur on any beach where the waves are breaking and can quickly wash away even the strongest swimmers.
Most often they form in areas where waves stagnate between areas where waves are less breaking, or where waves are more breaking. A rip current can be seen as a dark, narrow gap in the breaking wave line.
Rip currents are very fast, moving at speeds of up to 8 feet per second. Typical rip currents range in width from 50 to 100 feet and can extend up to 300 feet from the shoreline.
If you get caught in a rip current, don’t panic.
NOAA advises staying as calm as possible, going with the flow, and calling for help. Do not try to swim against the current. Instead, swim along the beach from the shore, parallel to the shore, and follow the crashing waves diagonally back to shore.
Always check local beach conditions and wave forecasts before going to the beach. Rip currents can occur in a variety of weather conditions.
NOAA also says rip currents often occur at low tide, so check the tide schedule before going to the beach.
Recent victims of dangerous rip currents along the beaches of the Gulf of Mexico, which stretch from the Panhandle, Florida to Mobile, Alabama, include a Georgia firefighter and a father who drowned while trying to save his children. It also includes people. Six people have died in the Panama City Beach, Florida area alone since mid-June.
Many of the fatalities occurred on days when double red flags were put up at beach entrances and lifeguard stations to warn beachgoers of possible rip currents.
In nearby Destin, Florida, former NFL quarterback Ryan Mallett, 35, drowned on Tuesday, but local officials said no rip currents were observed and a double rip current was observed on the beach that day. Instead of a red flag, a yellow warning flag fluttered.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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