Rip Currents: The number one weather-related killer at beaches along northern Gulf Coast

Weather Education

MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) – Many love to take trips to the beach all year, but prime beach season is coming up.

This week is Rip Current Awareness Week and rip currents are the number one weather-related killer at the beaches along the northern Gulf Coast killing 172 people since 2002. That is more than flooding, tropical, lightning, and tornado fatalities combined.

Joethan Phillips, Beach Safety Chief in Gulf Shores says, “We had 70 rescues last year from rip currents….it accounts for 80% of all rescues that are located on the beach.”

Gulf Shores beach safety officers are working hard to make sure rip current safety information gets out to local and tourist beach-goers. They have a pamphlet that all of their lifeguards give out each day in addition to talking with people about what rip currents are and how to avoid them. There are also signs up all along the beaches with information about the flag system and rip current safety.

The Gulf Shores beach flag system includes a purple flag which means dangerous marine life is present. There is a yellow flag which means moderate surf/currents, a red flag which means high surf/strong currents and the double red flag meaning the water is closed to the public.

Gulf Shores beaches no longer fly green flags….why? Phillips explains, “Because a lot of people, when they come to the beach they see a green flag and calm conditions it looks like….and people identify that as a stop light and they think green means go. And we don’t want them to think that.” In reality, there is always a hazard for rip currents. You can have clear skies with sunshine and water that looks calm and still have an elevated rip current risk.

Be on the lookout for more rip current safety information here on WKRG as well as the National Weather Service in Mobile and your local beach’s social media pages.

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