Outer Banks Safety Tips for a Great Vacation

When the red caution flags are flying, please don't swim in the ocean.
When the red caution flags are flying, please don’t swim in the ocean.

For very good reasons the Outer Banks is one of the most popular places for families to visit. Fantastic summer weather, great beaches and the ocean is usually a great place to go swimming.

But usually is not always, and there are some days when going in the ocean is dangerous. We call them red flag days because there is always a red flag with no swimming printed on it in bold letter when it’s not safe to go in the water.

The red flags are almost always raised because of the threat of rip currents. Sometimes the surf is so angry that the red flags will go up, but especially in the summer, it’s rip currents.

What is a Rip Current

A rip current is a channel of water that is flowing out to sea.

What causes a rip current are the natural fluctuations in the seabed.
Waves break on sandbars. The sandbar does not have to be particularly high to cause a wave to break, but it does have to be higher than the seabed directly seaward of it. If there is a gap between the sandbars, there will be nothing to cause the waves to break there and as the water flows out, it will naturally flow to that channel.

Because there is no inflowing waves to disrupt the water that is being channeled out to sea, the outgoing water can gain considerable force—far more force that even the strongest swimmer can overcome.

Visually, rip currents tend to be somewhat deceptive. Because there are no waves in the area of the rip current, it often appears as the calmest stretch of water around. It is not!

Safety Tips

A couple of important things to know about rip currents—safety tips that we hope will never be necessary:

  1. Rip currents do not drown swimmers. People drown because they panic and try to swim into the current exhausting themselves.
  2. Do not panic. Swim either parallel to the shore or with the current. When the rip current dissipates, swim into shore.
  3. Rip currents are nearshore events. They only exist in the surf zone. No breaking waves, no rip current.

There are some safety tips that we would like to pass along.:

  1. Do not go in the ocean if the red flags are flying. In the summer, the red flags are almost always warn of riptides. The National Weather Service has gotten quite good at predicting them, so if the flags are flying please do not go in the water.
  2. Swim by a lifeguard.
  3. Go to the beach with someone or in a group.

Red flag days are fairly rare during the summer. Occasionally if a storm is passing offshore, there will be two or three days in a row, but for the most part it’s one day and then the flags come down. Take that day to go shopping or take in some Outer Banks history.

Here at Joe Lamb Jr., & Associates. we want your visit with us to be everting you hoped it would be. A little bit of caution will go a long way to making sure you and your family have a great time on the Outer Banks.

Nor’easters Create Perfect Conditions for Big Surf Waves

Surfing the break at Kitty Hawk, March 7. Photo, Brent Nultemeier.
Surfing the break at Kitty Hawk, March 7. Photo, Brent Nultemeier.
Amazing Conditions Greet Surfers on Wednesday

Maybe it was the back to back nor’easters that created the perfect conditions for the waves that rolled in on Wednesday. Maybe it was the wind shifting just enough to the west to stack those massive waves, so they were no longer an unreadable swirl of currents.

Whatever it was, something happened yesterday to create an almost perfect winter surfing day.

Make no mistake, this was a day for the best only. Ten and twelve foot waves—and a few bigger—breaking 75 yards offshore are conditions only suited for the most experienced, but the action for those few who did get out there was incredible.

Significant Impacts Experienced

That is not to lessen the impact of the storms that battered the Outer Banks this past week. Somehow NCDOT has managed to get the S Curves north of Rodanthe opened almost immediately after being completely under water. A remarkable feat, but it also means Hatteras Island is not cut off from the rest of the world.

North of Oregon Inlet the relentless pounding of that perfect combination of storms pushed seawater over parts of the Beach Road in Nags Head and on the north end of Kitty Hawk.

In spite of the overwash, it does look as though the beaches that were nourished have held up well. Nourishment is used for shoreline and infrastructure protection. Five days of 12-15’ waves with a strong onshore wind is going to push water inland no matter what.

At first glance though, it looks like the overwash in Kitty Hawk was not nearly as severe as it has been in the past, and critical areas of the Beach Road that have been washed out as recently as last year, were not affected at all.

It looks as though there is another storm brewing, forecast to push offshore this weekend. Like the past two, the brunt of its power will be to the north of the Outer Banks…but the waves will certainly be rolling in.