What precautions to take this summer

Shak Pershey was just 19 when he drownedat North Topsail Beach just over nine years ago.

May 24 marked the anniversary of Pershey’s drowning, and as summer kicks in, officials are urging residents to watch out for beach hazards, especially rip currents. Pershey was a successful quarterback at Southwest High School and was finishing his senior year at the school at the time of his death.

Previous cover: Miller Column – Pershey loved the South West, the school loved it

Previous cover: Scoppe Chronicle – Pershey too young to leave

Pershey’s drowning shows that anyone, strong or not, can succumb to the dangers of ocean currents.

“For rip currents, they’ve traditionally been one of the biggest killers in our area for weather hazards,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Erik Heden. “So tornadoes, hurricanes, a lot of these things make the headlines, but we’ve lost more people to rip currents than tornadoes and other weather events that people hear about.”

According to the National Weather Service, beaches in North Carolina average about 10 rip currents. deaths per year over the past five years. There were 12 deaths in 2017, nine in 2018, 10 in 2019, four in 2020 and one in 2021.

One of those four in 2020 was at Topsail Beach.

Heden said while the ocean is a fun place, it can be dangerous, and the NWS recommends everyone know how to swim, don’t swim alone, and try to swim at a supervised beach. He said that statistically it is unlikely that you would die on a patrolled beach.

“Once you’ve done those things, be aware of the predictions,” Heden said. “If it’s a high-risk day, stay out of the water, follow what the lifeguards say, then know what a rip current is. A lot of people don’t realize it doesn’t pull you in. , is it pulling you. It’s a very strong current of water. It would be like you’re on a treadmill, a moving machine, and you’re trying to fight it.

Shak Pershey drowned in 2013 aged 19.

What is a rip current, how to spot it?

“It’s not a danger that … hurricanes have a name, tornadoes are in the headlines, so it’s kind of like a hidden danger,” Heden said. “People might not be aware. They look outside, it’s sunny, it’s a good day at the beach, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good day to be in the water. “

Heden said rip currents have been around for a long time and surfers will even use them to get out in the water. He said to think of them as treadmills of water, which then break at the sandbar.

“So when you go to the beach and see the waves crashing, it’s like a raised sand bar there,” Heden said. “Whenever there’s a gap, water rushes in, and that’s what a rip current is. They happen naturally.”

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Although rip currents can happen at any time, Heden said they mostly occur at low tide and can be difficult to spot.

He said the higher you are, like when you cross the dunes to get to the beach, the best time to spot them. When standing on the beach, you can spot a rip current by finding a break in the flowing water. It tends to look like the calmest area for swimming.

I’m stuck in a rip current, what should I do?

Heden said that when you’re pulled into a rip current there’s a natural tendency to try and swim against it, which is when many succumb to fatigue.

He said the rip currents are very narrow so the NWS is trying to say ppeople to relax. Although it is very difficult not to fight against the current, if you swim left or right, or parallel to the shore, you can escape the current of water.

However, sometimes the rip current pulls you far away.

“Once you’re out of the rip current, if you get pulled all the way it stops and then you can come back in,” Heden said. “The only hesitation with that is that it kind of comes down to the swimming part, knowing how to swim. You might be in some pretty deep water further out, so we just recommend people try to swim left or right off the bat, just to get out of it instead of being pulled all the way.”

Heden said their biggest problem recently has been people from inland areas coming to visit the beach, and not knowing much about the dangers. He stresses that locals should inform new residents or visitors of the dangers.

A sign at North Topsail Beach warns of rip currents.

Another common problem are distant offshore storms, which tend to impact the waters.

After: Onslow Beach Access is ready for summer: what you need to know about parking, amenities and more

“We lost eight people to Hurricane Lorenzo in 2019, and that’s more than we lost with Dorian, which was a local hurricane, and that was 2,000 miles away,” Heden said. “And it was a nice weekend in October, the weather was nice, that doesn’t necessarily mean those huge waves. It’s not like a dark, threatening sky. With a thunderstorm, it looks scary, you can hear the thunder.”

He said last weekend there were a lot of rescues as the beach population increased with the warm weather. This weekend, Heden said the NWS was tracking a distant tropical system, which could certainly impact the Onslow coast.

Are you going to Topsail?

North Topsail Beach Fire Chief Chad Soward said they receive between 175 and 200 calls per season related to beach incidents.

He said their most common calls were heat-related medical emergencies, swimmers in distress, jellyfish stings and missing person calls. He added that the biggest dangers for Topsail beachgoers are heat, water conditions and swimming ability, which is why Heden is urging residents to know how to swim and keep an eye on the forecast. .

“The biggest advice we give people is hydrate, hydrate, hydrate,” Soward said. “Use a quality SPF sunscreen and understand reapplication instructions, and use the National Weather Service for water conditions, and understand what the different rip current hazards mean when combined with water capacity. ‘a person to swim.’

For more information on rip currents and beach hazards, or to follow the forecast, visit the National Weather Service website, social media, or call 252-223-5737.

Journalist Morgan Starling can be reached at mstarling@gannett.com

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Susan W. Lloyd