Rip currents: Huge hurricane season threat even when a storm isn’t necessarily bearing down

Rip current risk during hurricane season

WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Rip currents are the number-one weather-related killer along the Carolina Coast. And the unique thing about them is, of all hurricane hazards, they're one of the few that can occur even if the core of the storm stays dozens, hundreds, even thousands of miles away.

Studies show that tropical storms and hurricanes can generate the low amplitude swell necessary to enhance rip currents, but there seems to be a hierarchy of rip setups with respect to the Carolinas.

Yes, any offshore storm is bad. But the severity of a rip current episode usually increases if that storm is intense and/or long-lasting. And worst of all is if a third element can be satisfied: and that is at least a portion of the storm’s track is westward or toward the coast.

Category 5 Hurricane Lorenzo of 2019 checked all of those boxes. And even though it didn’t come within 2,000 miles of the Carolinas, it initiated an historically deadly rip current event.

“Dorian was right on top of us… Got all this attention… But didn’t generate nearly the same loss of life as something 2200 miles away as Hurricane Lorenzo did… So we definitely have a lot of work to do to continue to working on the communication of the hazards of long-period swell events and the rip currents they produce from distant tropical cyclones,” said Mark Willis, National Weather Service Wilmington Meteorologist-in-Charge.

So if a socially-distanced trip to the beach is in your plans, please take the threat of rip currents seriously.

And please, educate your inland friends and family, that if you feel the grip of a rip current, NEVER FIGHT IT head-on. It will tire you and overtake you. Your best bet is to escape it by swimming parallel to the coast. You will be out of the rip current quickly that way.

Rip currents: a huge hurricane season threat - even when a storm isn’t necessarily bearing down.

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