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Rip Currents Claim Lives Along OBX Beaches

Corolla Beach
Thomas Wheeler

Three swimmers drowned at Cape Hatteras National Seashore last week. Two had been caught in rip currents.

Rips are strong, narrow currents that pull water directly away from shore. They often form near a break in a sandbar.

Stacey Sigler, safety manager for the Outer Banks group of National Parks, said novice and experienced swimmers alike should use caution while swimming.

“The Atlantic Ocean is a dangerous place,” Sigler said. “Here we've got sand moving around quite a lot everyday. And these rip currents that form are very powerful, and can form fast-moving water. they're common in this area because we have great breaking waves, right? It's also a great place to surf.”

Sigler said both rip current-related fatalities occurred at beaches without lifeguards.

“At lifeguarded beaches, there has never been a life lost,” she said. “So if they're caught in a rip current and they're at a lifeguarded beach, that's your highest margin of safety.”

There are numerous resources available to learn about identifying, escaping, predicting and avoiding rip currents. However, Sigler says even high-tech aids like NOAA's rip current forecasts can't rule out danger. She says beachgoers can mitigate risk by swimming at beaches with lifeguards, staying in very shallow water, and using floatation devices.

A third swimming death on the Outer Banks this month does not appear to be related to rip currents.

There were seven swimming-related fatalities in 2017 and eight in 2016.

Rebecca Martinez produces podcasts at WUNC. She’s been at the station since 2013, when she produced Morning Edition and reported for newscasts and radio features. Rebecca also serves on WUNC’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accountability (IDEA) Committee.
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