Officials are warning swimmers to take precautions throughout the Labor Day weekend as Hurricane Cristobal moves up the East Coast bringing rip currents and big surf to Cape Region beaches.
“Wednesday was an active day,” said Chief Wayne Kline of the Division of Parks and Recreation, which oversees Cape Henlopen State Park and the Delaware Seashore State Park beaches. “Lifeguards were in several times assisting swimmers throughout the day.”
A swimmer caught in the surf at unguarded Herring Point was pulled out by other swimmers and transported to Beebe Healthcare as a precaution, Kline said.
Dr. Paul Cowan of Beebe Healthcare described Aug. 27 as a cluster day – a day when the number of surf injuries totaled six or more. Cowan cautioned swimmers to be careful throughout the weekend because rough surf remains for days after a strong storm moves by. Good weather can also be deceiving, he said.
“When these hurricanes fall off the coast, it's the most dangerous because it's sunny and beautiful, but the surf remains dangerous,” he said.
On Aug. 26, Hurricane Cristobal continued moving northeast off the Mid-Atlantic coast with windspeeds clocked at 75 miles per hour, according to Weather Underground. It will continue to churn toward Iceland where Cristobal will become a tropical storm bringing powerful winds and heavy rain to Iceland by Sunday, Aug. 31, said Jeff Masters, meteorologist and co-founder of Weather Underground.
Waves along the Delaware shoreline remain higher than usual, reaching 6 to 8 feet, and the bigger surf has caused more rip currents, especially south of the Indian River Inlet, Kline said.
State park beaches in Cape Henlopen and along the shore north of the inlet have fewer incidents of rip currents, he said, although dangerous current can pop up anywhere. A lot depends on the contour of the beach which can change daily; most lifeguards have an idea where a rip current may occur, he said.
“Generally, the ones we see have a mushroom look to them,” Kline said.
The Rehoboth Beach Patrol website describes rip currents as powerful undertows that can pull even experienced swimmers from the shore. A rip current is often a murkier or darker color than the surrounding water, the website says.
Kline said a swimmer caught in a rip current can be pulled 20 to 30 yards from the shoreline; swimmers must swim parallel to the shoreline, not against the current, to get out of a rip current.
State park beaches have remained open during the recent rough surf; Kline said he expects conditions to continue through Friday although rough surf conditions should taper off by the end of the Labor Day weekend. Still, he said, if in doubt swimmers should ask lifeguards about surf conditions.
“Right now, swimmers should use caution,” he said.
The current rough conditions were preceded by similar dangerous surf last weekend that resulted in red flag days along Rehoboth Beach, closing the water to swimmers. Rehoboth Beach lifeguards responded to 25 water rescues last weekend, said Kent Buckson, captain of Rehoboth Beach Patrol.
Beebe Healthcare's Cowan credits area beach patrols for helping prevent surf injuries by letting swimmers know when surf is dangerous.
“The good news is the beach patrols are doing a good job getting the word out,” Cowan said.