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New for 2021: weather model can now predict hourly rip current threat

NOAA has launched the first-ever national rip current model in U.S.
Updated: May. 13, 2021 at 8:06 AM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Rip currents are powerful, narrow channels of fast-moving water that move away from shore. They can develop along any beach at any time of year and are responsible for killing over 100 people per year across the United States.

These currents typically move at 1-2 feet per second, but can move upwards of eight feet per second! That’s faster than any Olympic swimmer according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Rip currents are channels of dirty, sandy and foamy water heading out to sea.
Rip currents are channels of dirty, sandy and foamy water heading out to sea.(WSFA 12 News)

Contrary to popular belief, rip currents can form on seemingly calm days with minimal wave action and light wind speeds. They can also form on windy days, stormy days and days with large breaking waves. Basically they can happen at any time.

But this year there’s increased hope for limiting the number of rip current-related fatalities in the U.S. That’s because NOAA has officially launched a first-of-its-kind rip current forecast model that is aimed at saving lives.

Rip currents are one of the most deadly weather phenomena in the U.S. each year.
Rip currents are one of the most deadly weather phenomena in the U.S. each year.(WSFA 12 News)

According to the news release, “This new model can predict the hourly probability of rip currents along U.S. beaches up to six days out.”

That’s something that we have never had in our arsenal as meteorologists and beach-goers alike. With this new tool now available, anybody can check the rip current risk before heading to the beach -- or even while they’re at the beach.

Upgrades to NOAA's Nearshore Wave Prediction System will allow hourly rip current forecast...
Upgrades to NOAA's Nearshore Wave Prediction System will allow hourly rip current forecast predictions to be displayed.(WSFA 12 News/NOAA)

“NOAA’s National Ocean Service and National Weather Service collaboratively developed and implemented the model, which leverages wave and water level information from the recently upgraded National Weather Service’s Nearshore Wave Prediction System. Similar to predicting weather or precipitation, the model predicts the likelihood of dangerous seaward currents on a sliding scale - from 0 to 100%.”

Other improvements regarding near-shore weather and water conditions are available to forecasters and the general public as well. You can read about those and check them out for yourself by heading to this link.

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