Green dye shows rip current during NOAA modeling experiments along the Outer Banks in 2015.

Green dye shows rip current during NOAA modeling experiments along the Outer Banks in 2015.

It’s no secret that rip currents are the one ocean hazard that most concerns lifeguards and ocean safety experts.

Predicting them has always been a bit of a guessing game. The models have gotten better over the years, but no one thought they were as good as they needed to be.

The may be changing. And changing because of modeling work that was done on the Outer Banks, often applying the practical knowledge of local lifeguards.

The model, which was developed along the Kill Devil Hills beach, will give probabilities of rip currents forming from 0-100%.

It’s taken a while to create a model that will consistently predict rip current potential. The first work on the project was done by Dr. Greg Dusek  of NOAA in cooperation with Kill Devil Hills Ocean Rescue Supervisor Dave Elder in 2015.

The new modeling is a cooperative effort between NOAA’s National Ocean Service and National Weather Service (NWS). To create the risk prediction, waves and water level information is recorded by the NWS Near Shore Prediction System. The system was recently upgraded.

The modeling will predict rip current risk up to six days into the future.

What is a Rip Current

A rip current is a powerful, localized current of water that moves directly away from the shore. Although often depicted as  a straight current that flares out as it loses power, research has shown there are a number of different configurations of rip currents.

It is important to note that the danger in rip currents is the panic that swimmers often experience. The first reaction when caught in a rip current is to try to swim against it. With the water moving out to sea up to five miles per hour, that is not possible. Swimmers who try that exhaust themselves.

It is possible to swim parallel to shore until outside the current and then swim to shore.

With the new system in place, Outer Banks beaches should be safer than ever.

The sun and surf always seem to call to people and and a week or two in a Brindley Beach Home is the perfect antidote for a hectic life.