Beach danger today: rip tides

Carolinas beachgoers might have to settle for sitting on the shore and listening to the waves today.

Forecasters say the combined effects of Tropical Storm Fay and a high pressure system over the Middle Atlantic states are creating a serious tip tide danger along the Carolinas coast.

That threat led officials in Myrtle Beach to forbid people from entering the water Thursday. A similar ban is expected today, when the rip tide danger is forecast to be equally severe.

It appears as if the problem will subside Saturday, as Tropical Storm Fay moves westward, nearing the Florida Panhandle and lessening its impact on the Atlantic Ocean.

The problem is what experts call “long period swells.” Those are waves that last for hundreds of miles across the open ocean. A clockwise flow around the high pressure system and a counter-clockwise flow around Tropical Storm Fay are combining to create a wind tunnel from the east. The Carolinas beach are at the center of that effect.

“We had waves at a height of about 8 feet reported east of Myrtle Beach,” Tim Armstrong, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Wilmington, told the Myrtle Beach Sun-News late Thursday. “Experienced surfers are going to come out, because this is what they look for. But hopefully, people will less experience will wait.”

The long term waves are creating rip tides – a strong flow outward from the beach. The problem is typically at its worst during times of low tide, but meteorologists say rip tides were reported Thursday several hours before low tide.

In Myrtle Beach, lifeguards patrolled the shoreline, keeping people from entering the water.

Low tide this evening will be between 6 and 7 p.m. along that portion of the Carolinas coast.

Experts remind people of these tips for dealing with rip tides:

-- Remain calm

-- If you are pulled out, try to swim parallel to shore. Once you are away from the force of the current, begin to swim back to the beach.

-- Do not attempt to swim directly against a rip current. Even strong swimmers can become exhausted quickly.

The Myrtle Beach Sun-News contributed.