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New NOAA tool forecasts rip currents days out, hoping to prevent water rescues

Posted at 5:40 PM, Apr 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-09 20:46:18-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - National scientists, with the help of San Diego County lifeguards, have been working for more than a decade to create a system that can help forecast dangerous rip currents, and that system is now in use.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, launched this tool to predict the location and intensity of rip currents around the world. Southern California is one of the key areas studied because of the intense rip currents in the area.

“The idea behind this is to be able to predict those new developing, weakening, strengthening or moving rip currents,” said Alex Tardy, a meteorologist for San Diego’s National Weather Service office.

Rip currents are nothing new to San Diego. Tardy said the big development with this tool is the fact that it’s a forecast that can predict these rip currents six days out, with some data up to seven days out. This will be crucial for lifeguards and first responders, who constantly are responding to rip current-related water rescues.

Tardy said a key part of developing this tool has been data collection, and area lifeguards have been a big help with that. He said they have been and will continue to be a key part in observing rip current locations and patterns.

A spokesperson for the San Diego Fire Department confirmed their lifeguards have been both using the tool and helping supply data, adding that they hope people can use the forecast model to stay safe.

The rip current forecast can be found here.

Tardy said one of the biggest benefits they hope comes from the tool is fewer water rescues. He said local lifeguards can have 10,000 water rescues in a given year in San Diego County, with a huge portion revolving around rip currents.

According to NOAA, rip currents account for more than 100 deaths in the U.S. each year, and 80% of rescues performed by beach lifeguards.

Now that the model is being used, the goal is now to put it into action. If people know the rip current risk, they will know to stay out of the water, helping ease the work of lifeguards and keeping the community safe.