How beaches decide which safety flags to put up, and how rip currents form


Mobile, Ala. (WKRG) – News 5’s Caroline Carithers spoke with Melvin Shepard, the Batallion Chief of the Gulf Shores Fire Department and the Beach Lifeguard Service, on how they determine which beach safety flag to put up. She also talked with National Weather Service Forecaster, Cody Lindsey, in Mobile about how rip currents form, and just how dangerous they are.

Shepard says that each day safety officers go out to the beaches to look at the surf, check local weather observations, wave swells, and the National Weather Service’s rip current risk. He stresses that the most important thing is “to look at the water itself” and how it is behaving.

Shepard says that the City of Gulf Shores does not fly green flags anymore because swimmers thought that that meant the Gulf of Mexico was 100% safe to swim in, which it is not.

One way a rip current forms is when the water and waves get caught in between the shoreline and the sand bars. They occur when either a sand bar breaks, or it flows between two sand bars and takes everything in its path.

Lindsey says the National Weather Service uses wind direction, wind speed, and tidal ranges to determine the rip current risk. They also collaborate with the beach safety officers each day on the surf conditions.

Lindsey stresses to “never swim alone, always swim near a lifeguard, and if you do get caught in a rip current, the best thing to do is to swim parallel to the rip current.”

Since 1996, rip current deaths have outnumbered any other weather-related death at 114 fatalities. Lightning is in second place with 29 deaths.

For more details and how lifeguards are trained for rip current rescues, check out the video!

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