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UF team tries to predict formation of rip currents

By Associated Press
Published May 10, 2004

GAINESVILLE - A team of Florida engineers is conducting a six-year study to try and learn how to predict when and where rip currents will occur.

The deadly currents are the country's leading cause of ocean drownings and rescues.

Two University of Florida professors and some graduate students are in the fourth year of the $400,000 study that aims to create an advance warning system that beach managers can use to warn beachgoers of rip currents.

So far, civil and coastal engineering professors Robert Thieke and Andrew Kennedy have been able to predict increased rip current activity by comparing wave height, wave direction and duration.

Bigger waves with longer periods between crests that move perpendicular to the shore seem to be the best scenario for danger, Thieke said.

Researchers checked their prediction with lifeguard rescue logs in Volusia County and found that on days they had predicted increased rip current activity, ocean rescues increased.

The National Weather Service issues rip current updates as part of their daily surf forecasts.

But Kennedy said the service's releases, while important for determining relative risk, are based on regional weather patterns, not localized data. And because Weather Service updates are broad in scope they cannot provide site-specific warnings, he said.

According to the U.S. Lifesaving Association, about 80 percent of the nation's surf-related rescues are attributed to rip currents. Better local advance warning systems could be used to determine staffing levels for lifeguards.

In 2003, 22 people died in the currents along the Florida Panhandle.

[Last modified May 10, 2004, 01:00:25]

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