ENVIRONMENT

Threat of Dangerous Rip Currents More Frequent Since Sandy

By Lauren Wanko
NJ Today

Veteran lifeguard training officer Timothy O’Donnell has never seen this many rip currents in the 50 years he’s worked in Belmar.

“I run the beaches every morning, and at low tide, you can actually see the little gullies that are formed which later on when the tides fill in will create dangerous rip currents,” O’Donnell explained.

O’Donnell thinks Sandy’s to blame.

“It changed the whole structure of the beach and there’s sand bars where they’re never were sand bars,” he said. “There’s areas where you can literally walk out to the end of the jetty without being in the water and it’s never been like that.”

Jon Miller of Stevens Institute of Technology says Hurricane Sandy caused a couple of things.

“One thing is it’s exposed the jetties and the groins. Wherever we have those structures exposed, we tend to have rip currents,” said Miller. “Also, the erosion caused a lot of sand bars, perhaps bigger and more sandbars than usual, and there’s a lot of rip currents that tend to be associated with the sand bars as well.”

As swimmers start diving into the water this season, O’Donnell also worries about Sandy-related debris still in the Atlantic Ocean.

“You can’t see totally everyday what’s underneath the waves, it wouldn’t be prudent just to go running into the water, diving into the water,” O’Donnell advised. “I would proceed slowly into the water because it changes everyday. The sand can uncover a nice big piece of rock or maybe a piece of a railing that was torn off something, so you do have to be more aware then ever before.”

O’Donnell says a big concern is the fact that people don’t realize how dangerous rip currents are and just how fatal they can be. Two years ago in Belmar, two people drowned due to rip currents. They were swimming in the water before the lifeguards were on duty.

Today’s beautiful weather attracted beachgoers eager to go for a swim or soak in the rays. Rip currents don’t keep Samantha Vinciguerra away from the water.

“It’s not that much of a concern to me.” said Vinciguerra.

But Carrie Giammearse shudders at the thought of rip currents, more so now since Sandy hit.

“I only go up to my knees cause I’m just afraid,” Giammearse said. “Where you thought you were safe from last year where there normally aren’t ripe tides, this year it’s gonna be completely different.”

So what do you do if you’re caught in a rip current? Lifeguards warn — don’t fight it.

O’Donnel offered this tip:l

“Once you’re in one, you just have to relax. Go with it and then eventually it weakens as it gets out further, swim a little bit to the side and then you can just come in any old way, doggie paddle, whatever, you’ll make it in.”

O’Donnell adds that the best way to avoid the rip currents is to stay alert and be cautious, and when in doubt, ask the lifeguards.