Rip currents are especially hazardous because they can be difficult to identify and they are often encountered by people who have no experience with ocean waves or currents.
Additionally, when rip current formation is driven by offshore swells generated by a distant tropical storm, the worst rip currents may occur during ideal weather at the local coast.
Although some rip currents are visibly obvious and easily discerned, they are often not readily or easily identifiable to the average beachgoer. Some of the clues to rip current identification include:
• A channel of churning, choppy water;
• A line of sea foam, seaweed, or debris moving steadily seaward;
• Different colored water beyond the surf zone; and
• A break in the incoming wave pattern as waves roll into shore.
None, one, or several of the above clues may be present to indicate the location of rip currents. General characteristics of a rip current are shown in the photographs below.
Channel of churning, choppy water
Line os sea foam, seaweed or debris moving seaward
Different color water beyond the surf
Break in the incoming wave pattern
(Photo courtesy of Tom Herrington)