Phenomena

Rip Currents

Beachgoers along the shore. Notice the red-and-yellow flag used to warn beachgoers of dangerous rip-prone areas.

Rip currents — also known as rips — are a threat to beachgoers around the world, and, unfortunately, they’re often underestimated or misunderstood. As waves crash on the shore, water must find a path back out to sea, often through deeper channels that provide a break between the waves. These flow paths are rip currents, and they can form, shift, and intensify with little warning.

Over the years, researchers have found that efforts to educate beachgoers through signs, flags, and other methods once at the beach have done little to help visitors understand, avoid, or escape rips. Instead, it’s better to educate people long before the water is in sight. Since no one method is guaranteed success for escaping a rip, it’s better to learn to recognize and avoid these dangerous areas. Check out the video below for advice on spotting rips, and here’s a video showing rips from a surfer’s perspective, as well as one using dye flow visualization to mark a rip. Be safe and smart out there! (Image credit: P. Auitpol; video credit: Surf Life Saving Australia; via Hakai Magazine; submitted by Kam-Yung Soh)

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