HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) – While Hurricane Chris isn't expected to make direct landfall on the Carolina coast, the Grand Strand will still see some effects of the storm churning in the Atlantic.
The WMBF News First Alert Weather Team has been tracking Chris since Friday, and for those planning to head to the beach Tuesday and Wednesday, they should take extra caution because waters along the coast will be impacted.
First Alert Chief Meteorologist Jamie Arnold said Chris is about 300 miles away from the coast and will likely stay stationary through the overnight hours and begin to move away from the coast by Wednesday. He said the rip current threat will remain high along the Grand Strand throughout Tuesday and into Wednesday. He notes rip currents can happen at any time and are more prevalent around the times of high tide and even going into low tide.
"We're still going to see the rip current threat staying high and elevated here as we head through Tuesday through Wednesday. It's not like we're seeing these giant crashing waves on the beach though. You kind of go to the beach, you look out, it doesn't look that bad. We're only talking three- to four-foot waves at times coming on shore. So, it's not really dramatic looking. It doesn't take that though to cause those rip currents. Rip currents are kind of tough to see and they can be really deceiving. Even on a relatively, what looks to be calm beach day, you can still have those rip currents and that's what we're going to be watching for through the middle of the week," Arnold said.
On top of looking out for rip currents, longshore currents are also something people should be aware of along the coast.
"We're sort of on the backside of the storm. So, we're seeing a rather persistent and gusty northeast wind and what that does is it tends to blow the water down the beach and it's one of those days if you go in the water - you step in the water, it doesn't seem that bad. But you're out there having a good time, you're playing around, you look up and suddenly you're way down the beach from where you went in the water. So, that's what we call that longshore current and those can be just as dangerous sometimes as rip currents," Arnold said.
Looks can be very deceiving when it comes to rip currents. The ocean may look calm and safe to swim in, but that's not the case. Underneath, the water currents are churning. Julie Phillips with the North Myrtle Beach Rescue Squad said compared to last year, this year there's been less beach water rescues. Still, a majority of the water rescues are people being caught in rip currents.
Phillips said a rip current can happen at any time and there's no way of predicting it.
People can spot a rip current with polarized glasses from up high. However, the easiest way to locate one is to check with a lifeguard at the beach and they'll be able to recommend the safest place to swim.
Rip currents happen when powerful currents of water flow back away from the shore and into the ocean. If someone is caught in one, they are pulled back too. Phillips said the main reason people get into trouble is when the fear starts to kick in.
"They'll all of a sudden realize that they're being swept out to sea, and the first instinct is to panic or try to swim back to shore, which is wrong. Try to stay calm. A rip current lasts probably to about the end of the breakers, where the breakers start. So, once it comes to the breakers, it dissipates. So that way you can relax, and you can swim parallel to the shore," said Phillips.
Also, pay attention to the flag system on the beach near the lifeguard stands. The different colored flags mean different elevated levels for the rip currents.