ORANGE BEACH, AL How do you spot a rip current? “I don’t know how to recognize them,” says Laura Walker visiting Orange Beach from Mississippi.
If you don’t know, you are not alone. It can be confusing. “I think they kind of look like two coming together and one going back. Is that correct?” asks Walker.
Knowing what to look for can save a life and the best way to show you a rip current is from high above the beaches.
“Anytime you get elevated position it’s easier to detect rip currents,” says head of Orange Beach Surf Rescue Melvin Shepard. A couple of hours after high tide and rip currents are already starting to form near Perdido Pass. “They can pop up and they can diminish as fast as they show up,” says Shepard.
Where the sand bar drops off, what looks like muddy water is floating just beneath the surface. “Where the sand dips away from the beach, it’s a low depression. Waves will actually build up in those low spots and start to cut that channel out of the sand where a rip current is likely to form,” says Shepard.
The tide hasn’t started to go out yet. When it does the pull will be stronger. “They don’t necessarily pull straight back out to sea. They can pull east or west, left or right depending on your beach.”
Walking along the beach rip currents can be spotted by a break in the waves, murky water heading away from the beach usually with a lot of foam on the surface. “If its real rough and you notice calm areas, where it might be rough left or right and then there are calm areas, move out of those calm areas,” says Shepard.
A trip to the beach isn’t just fun and games in conditions like this. You have to be ready for anything. Especially for something you can’t see.