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Scientist participates in rip current awareness campaign

9:59 a.m., May 24, 2004--A University of Delaware scientist will participate in the launch of a public awareness campaign about the danger of rip currents, called “Break the Grip of the Rip,” unveiled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the United States Lifesaving Association on Monday morning, May 24, in Wrightsville Beach, N.C.

Wendy Carey, a coastal processes specialist for the UD Sea Grant Marine Advisory Service, said the campaign is designed to focus public attention on the prevention of rip current deaths.

At least 100 persons die from rip currents each year and it is estimated that 80 percent of all lifeguard rescues on surf beaches are the result of swimmers unable to escape a rip current, Carey said.

According to Carey, more than 25 years of rip current research has demonstrated that under certain wave, tide and beach conditions, rip currents can quickly become dangerous to anyone entering the surf. Average rip current speeds of one to two feet per second can sweep even the strongest swimmer out to sea. Rip current speeds can vary from moment to moment and have been measured as fast as eight feet per second, which is faster than an Olympic swimmer can sprint, she said.

Carey has been working with the National Weather Service, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control and local beach patrols to collect nearshore wave and current data that will enhance rip current forecasts as well as our understanding of what drives rip currents along the Delaware coast.

Rip currents are powerful, channelized currents of water flowing away from shore. They typically extend from the shoreline, through the surf zone and past the line of breaking waves and can occur at any beach with breaking waves.

Rip currents are dangerous because they pull people away from shore, Carey said, advising that if you are caught in a rip current, it is important to stay calm and to avoid fighting the current.

“Escape the rip current by swimming across the current in a direction following the shoreline,” she said. “When free of the current, swim at an angle away from the current and towards shore. If you are unable to escape by swimming, you should float or tread water.

“When the current weakens, swim at an angle away from the current towards shore. If at any time you feel you will be unable to reach shore, draw attention to yourself--face the shore, call or wave for help.”

Carey said the goals of the campaign are to make the beach experience safer, to promote the use of rip current outlooks in local weather forecasts and warnings, and to develop a clear and consistent message concerning rip currents and how to avoid them.

A standardized national sign for beach communities will be unveiled, as will a new NOAA rip current information web site and a national informational brochure. The web site can be found at [http://www.ripcurrents.noaa.gov/].

In addition to Carey, the launch featured retired Navy Vice Adm. Conrad C. Lautenbacher, under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator; B. Chris Brewster, president of the United States Lifesaving Association; Peter Davis, lifeguard and USLA education director; Jim Lushine, NOAA warning coordination meteorologist; and Sandee LaMotte, widow of CNN correspondent and bureau chief Larry LaMotte who drowned last year while trying to rescue his son.

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