Rip Currents Threaten Spring Breakers

About 17 million spring breakers will head to the sand and surf of Florida's beaches this season.

But all that fun in the sun can turn deadly. Recent weather conditions are causing rip currents on Florida's Cocoa Beach. In one week, 60 rip current-related emergencies occurred on the same swath of sand. The currents strike without warning, and they're taking a toll on spring breakers.

A rip current is a fast-moving channel of water about 10 to 30 yards wide. As wind drives water toward the coast, rip currents form, pushing swimmers away from the shore.

On Florida's Cocoa Beach, the same scene plays over and over again: Lifeguards charge into the water to save swimmers overcome by rip currents.

"I believe it's the spring break. The crowds are up in numbers since years past, and I think with all the natural hazards with the onshore wind. … You put the two together and the numbers increase as far as rescues," said Wyatt Werneth, Brevard County's chief lifeguard.

If you are trapped in a rip current, it is best not to fight it, even if it means allowing the current to carry you farther. When the current releases you, swim parallel to the coast until you reach safety.

"Rip currents are the No. 1 weather-related killer in the state of Florida, and considering Florida is the lightning capital of the United States, that is saying something," said meteorologist Dennis Feltgen of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Rip currents can occur anywhere there are breaking waves, but the existing weather pattern makes Florida a particular area of concern. A 150-mile stretch of Florida's Atlantic coast is going to continue to see weather conditions that make rip currents likely into the end of this week.

"It is not going to be a good time for swimmers who want to get into that water. With that risk of rip currents, it's probably the worst thing they can do," Feltgen said.