VB lifeguards warning of rip current risks as summer approaches

Virginia Beach

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – Warm weather may encourage you to take a dip in the ocean, but be on the lookout for rip currents. The risk is currently high, which is why red flags are flying at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront as of Friday afternoon.

“I noticed the flags,” said Riham Smith, a Suffolk resident who was visiting the Oceanfront with her daughter and niece. “They don’t need to be in the water. They can play in the sand today.”

Rip currents are not something you want to mess around with. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) says about 100 people die every year because of them. That is why the Virginia Beach Live Saving Association hopes you’ll pay attention to the red flags.

“When we put these red flags up, we’re not just … we think this is going to be a tough day or we don’t really feel like getting wet today, no, it’s dangerous,” said Tom Gill, chief of Virginia Beach Lifesaving Service.

Gill asks beachgoers to swim near the lifeguards when they see red flags flying.

“A lot of times these lifeguards are looking for all of this happening all of the time and they’re going to see it maybe before you even know it and come get you,” said Gill.

Rip currents are channels of water flowing away from the beach. They’re scary, because they form quickly and pull people away from shore, even good swimmers.

“People that are good swimmers might be great swimmers in the pool, but that doesn’t mean a whole lot out here when we start talking about the ocean,” Gill said.

Lifeguards now have a new tool to use: a national rip current forecast model created by the National Weather Service, NOAA and the U.S. Lifesaving Association. It can predict rip currents six days in advance.

“It’s backing up what we do and what say with data,” said Gill.

So what should you do if you’re caught in a rip current? Gill says the most important thing is to stay calm.

“Stay on top of the water, that’s all you have to do,” Gill said. “Float. The rip current will not pull you under, it’s just going to pull you out. People drown because they fight that current they try to come straight back in and exhaust themselves and they go under.”

He says rip currents usually dissipate, so try and float until it goes away. Strong swimmers can swim parallel to the beach. Anyone in distress should flag a lifeguard.

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