New technology aims to predict rip currents days in advance, it’s being used on the Gulf Coast | Baldwin County Alabama News

BALDWIN COUNTY, Ala (WALA) – Lifeguards have rescued more than 25 people on Baldwin Beach in the past seven days.

For many swimmers, if a crack suddenly appears, they’ll have fun in the water, but there is hope that new technology will help keep people safe.

A red flag waved high on Gulf Shores Beach on Wednesday.

“Every time we have red flags, we encourage people not to get in the water, especially if you are not an experienced swimmer,” said Joethan Phillips, Gulf Shores Beach Safety Chief. “The water is not blocked, but there are dangerous conditions out there.”

Rough surf, crashing waves and raging currents keep the beach swimmers on their toes.

Phillips has been a beach rescuer for nearly 15 years and has seen it all.

“Those rip currents, when we have red flags, can pull very hard,” he said.

Cracks are one of the biggest threats to swimmers here. They are mighty, narrow channels of fast flowing water that pull away from the shore.

“The main thing is when you get caught in a current or feel withdrawn, relax, call for help, and not try to fight the current,” said Phillips. “As soon as you feel the current pulling you back, you can swim parallel to the beach and then swim into it.”

For years, rift currents have been difficult to predict, but new technologies from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are changing that.

“The model predicts the likelihood of dangerous rift currents from zero to 100 percent per mile or so along the beach for every hour beyond 6 days,” said Greg Dusek, senior scientist at NOAA.

Dusek has been working on this new technology for more than a decade.

The model considers wave and water level forecasts. Similar to predicting the weather, the model predicts the likelihood of dangerous currents.

“How accurate do you think that is?” Asked Tyler Fingert, a reporter for FOX10 News.

“We saw improvements of more than 50% compared to our previous approaches,” said Dusek.

Nationwide rift currents kill approximately 100 people each year, including 2 in Baldwin County just this week. This new technology aims to reduce this.

For lifeguards like Phillips, he hopes a more informed beach goer leads to a safer day at the beach.

“The best tools are your eyes on the beach and looking at rift currents, but anytime you have other sources to help you and more accurate sources that are very helpful,” he said.

This lifesaving technology is already in use on the Gulf Coast. The National Weather Service in Mobile says the new model will help guide their daily rip current forecast.

If you want to see the forecast from NWS, click Here.

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