New Technology Helps Predict Return Currents Days In Advance, Used on Gulf Coast | Baldwin County Alabama News

BALDWIN COUNTY, ALA (WALA) – In the past seven days, lifeguards at Baldwin Beach have had to rescue more than 25 people.

For many swimmers, they are in the water having fun when suddenly a tear sets in, but there is hope that the new technology will help keep people safe.

On Wednesday, a red flag flew high over the beach at Gulf Shores.

“Whenever we have red flags, we encourage people not to enter the water, especially if you are not an experienced swimmer,” said Joethan Phillips, chief safety officer for Gulf Shores Beach. “The water is not shut off, but there are dangerous conditions there.”

Choppy waves, crashing waves and rip currents keep lifeguards busy at the beach.

Phillips has been a beach lifeguard for almost 15 years and he’s seen it all.

“Those reverse currents when we have red flag days can pull really hard,” he said.

Rips are one of the biggest threats swimmers face here. They are powerful narrow canals of swift water that run away from the shore.

“The main thing is to relax, call for help, and not try to beat the current if you get caught in a reverse current or start to feel pulled back,” Phillips said. “Once you feel the current stop pulling you back, you can swim parallel to the beach and then swim in it.”

For years, reverse currents have been difficult to predict, but new technology from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is changing that.

“The model predicts the probability of dangerous reverse currents from zero to 100 percent every kilometer or so along the beach, every hour 6 days into the future,” said Greg Dusek, senior scientist at NOAA.

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

The model examines wave and water level forecasts. Similar to weather forecasting, the model predicts the probability of dangerous currents.

“How accurate do you think this is,” asked FOX10 News reporter Tyler Fingert.

“We have seen improvements of over 50% over our previous approaches,” said Dusek.

Nationwide return currents kill about 100 people each year, including 2 this week in Baldwin County. This new technology hopes to reduce that.

For lifeguards like Phillips, he hopes that a more informed beach goer will lead to a safer beach day.

“The best tool is to have your eyes on the beach and watch the currents, but at any time you can have other sources to help you and more specific sources which are of great help” , did he declare.

This life-saving technology is already in use on the Gulf Coast. Mobile’s National Weather Service says the new model helps guide their daily rip current forecasts.

If you want to see the NWS forecast, click on here.

All content © 2021, WALA; Mobile, Alabama. (A Meredith Corporation station). All rights reserved.

About Dianne Stinson

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