NOAA 2001-R238
Contact: Ron Trumbla

Applauds Reduction in Southeast Florida Drownings

Scott Gudes, acting administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration presented the agency's Environmental Hero Award to the Florida Beach Patrol Chiefs Association today. Working closely with NOAA's National Weather Service Forecast Office in Miami, the association and its lifeguards have been instrumental in reducing rip current drownings in southeast Florida.

Established in 1995 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Earth Day, the Environmental Hero award is presented to individuals and organizations that volunteer their time and energy to help NOAA, an agency of the Department of Commerce, accomplish its mission of describing, predicting and protecting the nation's environment.

"During the last 21 months, there has been only one known rip current-related death in southeast Florida," said Gudes." This is in sharp contrast to the high number of rip current drownings that have occurred here since 1979."

From 1979 through 1999, an estimated 172 people died as the result of rip currents in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. That exceeds the combined number of deaths from hurricanes, tornadoes, and lightning during the same period. There were no rip current drownings recorded in 2000 and only one so far in 2001.

Jim Lushine, warning coordination meteorologist for Miami, attributes this sharp decline to the successful partnership established by NOAA's weather service in Miami and the FBPCA. "Rip currents are caused by certain wind and tide conditions that can be forecast by the weather serviceAt such times, the office issues warning statements which the association helps to publicize – increasing awareness and beach safety."

The weather service in Miami, in cooperation with local beach patrols and the media, have publicized the danger from rip currents since 1994. The FBPCA network of lifeguards warns the public of these dangers and, when necessary, rescues swimmers from the surf.

Rusty Pfost, meteorologist in charge of the weather service office in Miami, says, "Beach-goers should be prepared if a warning statement is issued on the danger of rip currents."

Rob Caldwell, president of FBPCA, advises people to immediately check the information board and any flags when they go to a beach, and to swim near a lifeguard." People tend to get in trouble when they overestimate their own ability and underestimate the dangers in the ocean."

To continue the success in reducing rip current drownings in southeast Florida, ongoing education to the beach-going public is essentialBefore going to a beach, they should:

  • Check weather reports on NOAA Weather Radio or the broadcast media
  • Know how to swim
  • Swim only at guarded beaches
  • Make sure surf is at or below knee level if the beach is unguarded and the water is rough
  • If caught in a rip current, swim parallel to shore for the quickest escape

NOAA is honoring 27 Environmental Heroes nationwide this yearEach recipient or organization receives a certificate recognizing their contributions.

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