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🚩 Gulf Coast Rip Current Awareness 🚩

Bay County Beach Surf Laura
 

While the Gulf Coast is known for its beaches, rip currents are a hidden danger that all folks visiting the Gulf Coast should be aware of. We'll talk about rip current statistics, identifying rip currents, and how to keep yourself safe from them! We want everyone who visits our amazing beaches to have a good time and a safe time. 

Contrary to popular belief, the Gulf isn't always "flat" (calm with no surf). There are a variety of conditions that can bring big waves to the area and an increased threat for rip currents. The right image is surf from Hurricane Laura while the left image is what we see most of the time along the Gulf Coast.
 

 

All About Rip Currents

We all love the beach - the sun, the sand, and the surf. BUT! Just because you are having fun at the beach does NOT mean you can forget about safety.
 

Rip currents are the #1 weather-related killer at the beaches along the northern Gulf Coast. There have been a staggering 172 rip current fatalities since 2002 in the beaches covered by the National Weather Service Offices in Tallahassee, FL and Mobile, AL. That is more than the fatalities of flooding, tornadoes, lightning, and tropical storms/hurricanes COMBINED!!  [Note: Rip current fatalities are only across our coastal counties with beaches (2 in Alabama and 7 in Florida), whereas the other fatalities are spread across the entire forecast area that spans 68 counties in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi.]
 


What is a Rip Current?

A powerful, narrow channel of water flowing away from the beach. Rip currents typically extend from near the shoreline out through the breaker zone where breaking waves form. Rip currents can and do occur on clear, sunny days.

Think of a rip current like this - it is a natural treadmill traveling away from the beach. Rip currents can travel as fast as 8 feet per second - that’s faster than an Olympic swimmer! A rip current is dangerous because it can sweep even the strongest swimmers out to sea. For that reason, rip currents are life-threatening to anyone entering the surf.
 

Rip currents also commonly form around breaks in sandbars and near inlets, jetties, and piers (where they are more intense).
 

Learn all about rip currents in this video from the South Walton Fire District and NWS Tallahassee

Learn all about rip currents in this video from the City of Orange Beach - Beach Safety Division and NWS Mobile!

 

What is NOT a Rip Current?

A rip current is NOT a “rip tide”. A rip current is also NOT an “undertow”. Rip currents do not pull you under the water - it will just pull you away from the beach.

Beach Forecast

NWS Meteorologists along the Gulf Coast routinely provide daily rip current forecasts for local beaches via the “Surf Zone Forecast” (SRF) product:

Florida Panhandle Beaches Surf Zone Forecast from NWS Tallahassee
Coastal Alabama and Northwest Florida Beaches Surf Zone Forecast from NWS Mobile


NWS Beach Forecast Map: www.weather.gov/beach

Media Collaboration:

Spot A Rip Current

Did you know that waves do not need to be huge for rip currents to form? Rip Currents are strongest at low tide but can form at any time.
 

Clues to Identify a Rip Current:

  • Water Texture - Rip currents are often found in areas where waves are *not* breaking. The flat water located between breaking waves is actually a rip current flowing away from the beach out to sea.
  • Water Color - The water is often darker in a rip current. White foam is present where waves are breaking and there are no rip currents.
  • Water Movement - Look for a line of foam, seaweed, or debris moving away from the beach.
     


Rip currents are often present in channel cuts through sandbars. Rip currents can also occur where there are hard structures (in the vicinity of inlets, jetties, or piers) or even rocks jutting out into the Gulf.
 


Rip currents are easier to identify from an elevated vantage point such as a lifeguard stand, dune line, or even at the beach access point.
 


Learn more on how to spot a rip current in the videos from NWS Tallahassee and Mobile below. Includes advice from local beach experts!
 

   

 

Survive A Rip Current

Staying safe at the beach means knowing the dangers BEFORE you head out! Great beach weather does not always mean it's safe to swim or play in shallow waters. Rip currents can form on calm, sunny days.
 


Are you planning a beach trip soon? We look forward to you visiting our wonderful beaches, but there are some days that you will want to say out of the water due to rip currents.

Do you know what to do if caught in a rip current? These tips could save your life...
 


Rip Current Safety Tips to KNOW BEFORE YOU GO:

  • Always check the local beach forecast before your toes hit the sand.
  • Look for the beach warning signs and or beach flags (often located on or near the lifeguard stand).
  • If you are unsure about the water conditions, ask a lifeguard.
  • Always swim near lifeguards and know how to swim before you venture in.
  • **Not all beaches have lifeguards, so be extra careful on unguarded beaches.**
  • When you go in the water at an unguarded beach, always bring flotation.
  • When in doubt, DON’T GO OUT - Avoid swimming if there is any question as to whether there is a rip current.


Did you know that rip currents account for 80% of beach rescues? Rip currents can be deadly if you do not know what to do. This knowledge could save your life or the life of someone else.
 


Rip Current Survival Guide:

  • STAY CALM. WAVE. YELL. FLOAT.
  • DON’T PANIC - Staying calm may save your life.
  • Good swimmer? Swim parallel to the beach until you clear the pull of the rip current.
  • Not a skilled swimmer? Relax and flip on your back to float (floating conserves your energy)
  • Always wave and yell to get the attention of the lifeguards.
  • REMEMBER - Don’t fight the rip current. Instead, swim left or right.
  • Do NOT swim next to jetties.
  • Swimming in a pool is not the same as swimming at a beach with crashing waves, winds, and dangerous rip currents.
  • Swim with a buddy!
  • Swim near a lifeguard. The chance of drowning at a beach protected by USLA affiliated lifeguards is 1 in 18 million!

See someone in trouble in a rip current at the beach?

  • Do not go in after them. Instead - call for help!
  • If no lifeguard is available, throw them something that floats, but do NOT try to make the rescue yourself. Remember, even lifeguards only attempt a rip current rescue using a flotation device.

Rip Current Survival Stories

Rip Current Safety Videos:

Learn more by viewing all the rip current safety videos in our YouTube playlist. Additional information from our beach safety partners is below! 
 

       

       

Beach Forecast Information

  • Know Before You Go! One of the best ways to be prepared for rip currents and other beach hazards  is to know what you could be swimming into at the beach!
  • In addition to local expertise from our meteorologists, the National Weather Service runs a nearshore-wave model that helps forecast the potential rip current risk each day. The surf forecast is issued early each morning and updated later that morning after we receive updates from the local beach officials and lifeguards. Occasionally, lifeguards or beach officials will see that rip current conditions are evolving quicker or slower than our initial forecast, so we update the forecast to reflect the current conditions.
  • Below the map, you will see that we use three tiers of qualifiers or “risk levels” in our beach forecasts - low, moderate, and high. High Risk is the highest level and means that the wind, swell, and/or tidal conditions are extremely favorable for the development of numerous deadly rip currents in the surf zone. A high risk means the surf is dangerous for ALL LEVELS of swimmers
  • Click the map below to get your nearby beach forecast!

Dauphin Island Beach Forecast Gulf Shores Beach Forecast Orange Beach Forecast Pensacola Beach Forecast Navarre Beach Forecast Fort Walton Beach Forecast Destin Beach Forecast Miramar Beach Forecast Santa Rosa Beach Forecast Laguna Beach Forecast Panama City Beach Forecast Mexico Beach Forecast Cape San Blas Beach Forecast St George Island Beach Forecast

Risk Level Description
Low The risk of rip currents is low, however, life threatening rip currents may still occur especially near groins, jetties, reefs, and piers. Always swim near a lifeguard and remember to heed the advice of the local beach patrol and flag warning systems.
Moderate Life threatening rip currents are possible. Always swim near a lifeguard and remember to heed the advice of the local beach patrol and flag warning systems.
High Life threatening rip currents are likely. The surf zone is dangerous for all levels of swimmers. Stay out of the water. Remember to heed the advice of the local beach patrol and flag warning systems.
Additional Resources
UV Index Scale
2 or less Low Low danger from the sun's UV rays for the average person.
Wear sunglasses on bright days. If you burn easily, cover up and use sunscreen.
3 - 5 Moderate Moderate risk of harm from unprotected sun exposure.
Take precautions, such as covering up, if you will be outside. Stay in shade near midday when the sun is strongest.
6 - 7 High High risk of harm from unprotected sun exposure.
Protection against sunburn is needed. Reduce time in the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Cover up, wear a hat and sunglasses, and use sunscreen.
8 - 10 Very High Very high risk of harm from unprotected sun exposure.
Take extra precautions. Unprotected skin will be damaged and can burn quickly. Minimize sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Otherwise, seek shade, cover up, wear a hat and sunglasses, and use sunscreen.
11+ Extreme Extreme risk of harm from unprotected sun exposure.
Take all precautions. Unprotected skin can burn in minutes. Beachgoers should know that white sand and other bright surfaces reflect UV and will increase UV exposure. Try to avoid sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Seek shade, cover up, wear a hat and sunglasses, and use sunscreen.

 

Thunderstorm Potential (definition) Waterspout Risk (definition)
None No thunderstorms are expected None No risk of waterspout development
Low Thunderstorms are only expected to be isolated in coverage Low Low risk of waterspout development
Moderate Thunderstorms are forecast to be scattered in coverage Moderate Moderate risk of waterspout development
High Thunderstorms are forecast to be numerous or widespread in coverage High High risk of waterspout development

Beach Flags and Additional Resources

Know what the beach flag colors mean BEFORE you head to the beach. When you get to the beach, always look for beach warning flags, which are often posted on or near a lifeguard stand.


 

The clickable table below provides beach flag resources for several northern Gulf Coast beaches in Alabama and Florida. Click the website or social media buttons next to the beach name to view the current beach flags and beach conditions for that particular beach.
 


Did you know that two communities in coastal Alabama, Ft Morgan and Dauphin Island, have rip current signs that flash when the NWS Mobile Office issues a HIGH RISK for rip currents? A view of the sign at Ft Morgan can be seen below.
 

 

Before your toes hit the sand, learn about the beach flag warning system and other resources to keep you safe in this video from the City of Orange Beach - Beach Safety Division and NWS Mobile:

 

Beach Safety Videos:

Additional Safety Resources:

Additional Safety Resources:

For Media Inquiries:

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