Water safety critical in coming days as rip current risks rise

Updated: Jul. 23, 2019 at 11:00 PM EDT
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OAK ISLAND, N.C. (WECT) - What you see isn’t always what you get at the beach but what you see is usually a good place to start.

Rip current risk is expected to increase in the coming days as the remnants of a tropical depression push water, wind and waves toward the coast of southeastern North Carolina.

South-facing beaches like Oak Island are especially prone to dangerous rip currents during these weather events.

"This disturbance we've got coming, it's coming up from the south," Young said Tuesday. "It's gonna push a lot of water up on these south-facing beaches down here. When all that water gets pushed up on our beach, it's gotta go back out. Gravity's gonna take over. Rip currents form when that water goes back out."

Young advised people to be cautious even though the weather may appear perfect at Oak Island and other NC beaches.

"The storm could be miles and miles away from here," Young said. "It could be bright sunshine, but all those waves and water and wind pushing up here, it gets really dangerous really fast. If somebody's trying to squeeze that last bit of vacation time out before the storm gets them, you can get in real trouble."

Recent drownings, including one at Oak Island, and another near drowning there on Monday should have beachgoers on high alert.

Young said he knows it isn't realistic to expect people to wear life preservers or carry life rings with them to the beach but there are steps to take when rip current risk is high.

It starts with being prepared and informed of the conditions before your toes even touch the sand.

When you arrive at the beach, if the ocean looks angry, it stands to reason that you shouldn't venture out beyond knee deep.

A relatively calm-looking ocean can still contain danger in the form of those rip currents though and if you’re caught in one, Young said not panicking is the difference between life and death.

"The first thing to do is not panic. I know that is easy for me to say standing here in the dry garage, but if you've heard about it now, maybe you'll remember later," he said. "I'm not gonna panic. I'm just gonna float and keep myself above water so I can continue to breathe and I'm gonna try to get somebody on the beach's attention that I'm in trouble."

Young added that if you’re on the beach and you see someone caught in a rip current, do not go in the water to try to save them. Instead, find something that floats — a boogie board, surfboard or even a cooler — and throw it to the distressed swimmer. Then call 911.

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