Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Rylie. Rylie Wonders, “how do rip currents happen” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Rylie!
Do you love to swim in the ocean? Who doesn’t, right? The sand, the sun, the cool water . . . what’s not to love? But have you ever been in the water and suddenly felt yourself being pulled away from the shore?
Uh oh! That’s the last feeling you want when you’re in the water. But many people experience this when they’re at the beach. What’s going on here? More than likely, they’re experiencing a phenomenon known as a rip current.
A rip current can pull even strong swimmers out to sea. What causes rip currents? Think of what happens in an ocean. Waves continually break upon the shore. One after the other, they never stop. All that water has to go somewhere, right?
As waves break on the shore, water from previous waves runs underneath those currently breaking. This creates a gentle current that floats to the bottom of the ocean, which can pull you toward the ocean floor. This is an undertow, and it’s usually mild enough that it doesn’t present any danger except to small children and the weakest of swimmers.
Sometimes, though, certain weather patterns cause heavy wave action. At these times, the water from breaking waves may build up. As it does so, it seeks a weak point in the breaking waves. When it finds one, it pushes quickly out to sea, creating a rip current that runs quickly away from shore along the surface of the water.
Rip currents can be very strong. They’re also fast, moving up to eight feet per second. That’s faster than an Olympic swimmer! Strong rip currents can even be deadly. They cause as many as 150 deaths each year. In Florida, rip currents cause more deaths every year than thunderstorms, hurricanes, and tornadoes combined!
Some regions are more prone to rip currents than others. This is because of the particular shape of the coastline in the area. You may see warning signs nearby telling swimmers to be wary of rip currents.
If you’re WONDERing what to do if you ever find yourself caught in a rip current, you might be surprised by the answer.
The natural reaction is to swim toward shore. However, even experienced swimmers can tire out quickly before ever reaching the shoreline when they’re caught in a rip current. Instead, focus on staying afloat. Don’t try to swim against the current. The best thing to do is to swim sideways along the shoreline—parallel to shore—until you find a weak point in the current. Then, swim at an angle away from the current and toward shore.
If you’re swimming in an unfamiliar area, be sure to ask locals about the currents. You should also be aware of any posted warning signs and take them seriously. Ignoring them can be a costly, potentially deadly, mistake!
Standards: NGSS.ESS2.D, CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.4, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.SL.1, CCRA.W.2, CCRA.L.1, CCRA.L.2, CCRA.SL.2, NCAS.A.1, NCAS.A.2, NCAS.A.3, CCRA.W.2, CCRA.W.4, CCRA.L.1, CCRA.L.2, CCRA.W.10