Mar
28
2007

Dangerous time for swimmers on spring break in Florida

Rip Current Sign.: Photo courtesy Dawn Endico, via Flickr.
Rip Current Sign.: Photo courtesy Dawn Endico, via Flickr.
Rip currents are something that I have very little experience with – I find them mysterious, fascinating, and frightening. Growing up in Minnesota they are just not a part of my day to day life. I’ve encountered them on vacations. I’ve seen the signs posted on beautiful beaches with the ocean just calling you to swim in it. “Warning: Dangerous Rip Currents Do Not Swim”. Why? What are they?

Rip currents are strong flows of water returning seaward from the shore. Wind and waves push water to the shore, and the resulting backwash is pushed sideways by more oncoming waves. This sideways moving backwash flows along the shoreline until it finds a place where the waves are not as strong to return seaward. This location is “found” by a large amount of backwash resulting in a large flow of water using the same place to return to the ocean. Rip currents are usually narrow and located in trenches between sandbars, under piers, or along jetties. The current is usually strongest near the surface.

Portuguese Man-O-War: Photo courtesy U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Portuguese Man-O-War: Photo courtesy U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Rip currents cause approximately 100 deaths a year in the U.S., and are in the news now as we approach spring break. Apparently weather conditions down in Florida are ideal right now for the formation of rip currents. On March 24 lifeguards in Brevard County, Florida made 20 rescues as a result of rip currents. With the influx of spring break visitors – probably lots of folks like me who have little experience or understanding of rip currents – the situation is quite serious.

Adding to the woes of lifeguards and inexperienced ocean swimmers is the Portuguese man-‘o-wars which are being blown into shallow waters by the same winds that are causing the rip tides. Man-‘o-wars have a poisonous sting which can be fatal, but more often causes excruciating pain near the sting site.

Stay safe, spring breakers.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Brady Martin's picture
Brady Martin says:

Hi all -
I actually got stung by one of these in Key West, Florida. It really hurt. And it wasn't even one of the really big Portuguese Man o War. The Emergency Medical Service van came to check me out. I was in lots of pain for about 20 minutes. It traveled from my ankle to my groin.

More stingers get in if your skin is smooth with no calluses.

posted on Mon, 04/16/2007 - 5:31pm

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