Riptides, rain, even sharks — can we overcome hazards to actually enjoy the Fourth?

Posted at 8:16 PM, Jul 03, 2014
and last updated 2014-07-03 20:15:51-04

NEW YORK (PIX11) -- Cookouts, beach time and fireworks are the usual hallmarks of the 4th of July holiday, but this year, unsettled weather and hazardous surf are expected to be as great a part of Independence Day as those other things the holiday is known for. However, the forecasted rain and rip currents can be endured and overcome, respectively, in order for people throughout the tri-state to enjoy the cookouts, fireworks and maybe even some beach time before too late in the day on Friday.

Out on Overlook Beach in the Town of Babylon, on Long Island, someone had gone lifeless in the surf about 100 feet off shore around midday on Thursday. Lifeguards surrounded the young man, pulling him into shore. As it turned out, the limpness in the man's body was staged. He, too, was a lifeguard. It was all part of an exercise in rip current rescues, that the Babylon lifeguards repeat daily.

Due to the effects of Hurricane Arthur, however, the lifeguards anticipate making rescues for real, multiple times on the holiday and Saturday. "With this storm coming up the coast," said Assistant Chief Lifeguard Terry Manning, "it just intensifies the rip currents, and if you're not a great swimmer, you're going to have your hands full."

Simply put, a rip current is a wall of seawater that moves away from the shore through a channel in the sand under the surf, while the rest of the waves are moving toward the shoreline, as they normally do. Most people in the water or on the beach don't notice the rip current.

Lifeguards, however, from their elevated stands high above the water's surface, are constantly on the lookout for rip currents, which are also called riptides, as well as on the lookout for people who have been affected by these waves which can drag a swimmer up to a quarter mile from shore.

"Guards are on duty," said Manning, the lifeguard chief. "We're here. Your safety is not a [worry], we take care of that. We've been here for 74 years here in the Town of Babylon. We know what we're doing."

He repeated two very important instructions. One, to never swim anywhere where a lifeguard is not on duty, and two, where a lifeguard is on duty, to swim only in areas where guards have posted green flags. Red flags on a beach signify areas in which it's dangerous to swim or where there's no lifeguard on duty.

The riptide is one challenge for the weekend. Another is the threat of rain. It's forecast for much of the day Friday. Still, it didn't seem to dampen the spirits of people encountered by PIX11 along the Atlantic Ocean seashore.

"The ocean, the breeze, it's in my blood," said Ray Barcia, "so I'll be out there somewhere." When asked if the rain would be prohibiting in any way, he replied, "It's only water."

Diane Adams lives across the street from Rockaway Beach, and as a result, she said, she's on the sand and in the surf almost every summer day. She was very optimistic about returning for on Friday.

"I think everybody's going to get a good 4th of July," she told PIX11 News. "I'm hoping for it. I'm praying for it, you know what i'm saying?"

Her prayers may get answered for the The State. Even though rain is forecast for much of Friday, it's expected to clear out in time for fireworks, and may even clear out in time for some people to get in a little time at the beach in the late afternoon.

Of course, there are a few people who actually want the first hazard mentioned in this article, rip currents, and don't mind the rain. They're surfers.

One of them told PIX11 News, at Rockaway Beach, "For us... rip currents are the only time we get good waves. And the rain? We're wet anyway."

There is one additional concern that some beachgoers have been talking about, but it's much more of a conversation topic than an actual threat. Thresher sharks have been spotted and caught one to three miles off Rockaway Beach, and at least one juvenile great white shark was caught a mile and-a-half off the Rockaway shore.

With those shark catching distances being at least six times farther out to sea than the farthest length that rip currents are known to pull swimmers, there are no official warnings of shark attacks in New York coastal waters.