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Local Rip Current Education Continues

June 28, 2006

Instead of, “How’s the water?” beachgoers on Park Point may be asked a few different questions this summer. “How often have you visited a beach on Minnesota Point in the past five years?” and “Have you seen the signs along the beach that show how to get out of a rip current?” are questions from a short survey that will be conducted by the UMD Minnesota Sea Grant Program and the City of Duluth.

The questions are part of an effort to understand people’s perceptions about rip currents and refine educational efforts. The survey will be conducted by Kelsey Paxson, a UMD environmental studies student for his summer internship with Sea Grant.

Sea Grant is also sponsoring a Shorelink interpreter who will inform tourists about rip currents as part of a series of roving naturalist programs in Duluth and the North Shore. Sugarloaf: The North Shore Stewardship Association organizes the Shorelink program.

For those who take their swimming class skills to the beach, the Duluth Parks and Recreation Department is posting rip current education signs at all city pools. They are also distributing rip current brochures at neighborhood sites and training lifeguards in rip current rescue techniques.

On June 15 and similar to last summer, the Duluth National Weather Service began including information in their daily morning hazardous weather outlook if conditions favor rip currents. According to Michael Stewart, meteorologist-in-charge, this involves winds 25 miles per hour or more from the east.

Rip currents are narrow, fast-moving channels of water that sweep out from shore. Formed under windy weather conditions, they are powerful enough to carry away even the strongest swimmers from beaches or around piers. Panicked swimmers who try to swim straight back to shore against the current, put themselves at risk of drowning because of fatigue. Lifeguards rescue tens of thousands of people from rip currents in the U.S. every year, but it is estimated that 100 people are killed by rip currents annually.

“Nobody should be afraid to go to the beach,” said Jesse Schomberg, coastal communities educator with Minnesota Sea Grant. “We want people to have a good time, but be informed about rip currents. Swimming on guarded beaches and knowing how to escape a rip current can be life-saving. If caught in a rip current, don’t fight it. Swim parallel to the shore until you’re out of the current, then swim back to shore at an angle.”

Schomberg described a rip current as having a different wave pattern than the rest of the beach. Other signs are foam or debris moving away from shore and a plume of dirty or muddy water.

To find out more about rip currents, visit Minnesota Sea Grant’s Lake Superior Rip Current Web Site: www.seagrant.umn.edu/coastal_communities/rip, or order the free “Break the Grip of the Rip” brochure (call 218-726-6191).

Minnesota Sea Grant is part of a network of 30 Sea Grant College Programs spanning coastal states throughout the United States and Puerto Rico.

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