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3 Panama City Beach drownings: Florida total 5 this week, survive rip currents

National Weather Service warns of dangerous surf and rip currents in coastal Alabama. Five drownings reported in Florida in two days.

The National Weather Service has issued a warning for dangerous surf and life-threatening rip currents along coastal Alabama. This caution comes after a tragic incident in Florida where five individuals lost their lives due to drowning in rip currents within two days. The most recent incident involved three men who perished in the surf off Panama City Beach on Friday night. Just the day before, two other tragic swimming deaths occurred at Stuart Beach, Florida, where parents of six children from Pennsylvania were unable to escape a rip current.

High-risk rip current advisories have been in effect for much of the Southeast Florida coast and Panhandle beaches this week, with the National Weather Service updating its advisory to include dangerous rip currents expected in Bay County throughout the weekend. As we are only at the beginning of summer, rip currents will continue to pose a threat for months to come.

Various factors, such as disturbances off the east coast and Tropical Storm Alberto in the Gulf of Mexico, have contributed to turbulent waters along Florida's coast. Counties like Walton, Bay, Gulf, and Franklin have been under advisory due to the hazardous conditions. The NWS emphasizes the importance of swimming near a lifeguard and knowing how to respond if caught in a rip current, including relaxing and floating rather than swimming against the current.

Rip currents are powerful channels of water that flow rapidly away from shore, often found near low spots or breaks in the sandbar. They can be difficult to spot while in the water, making them a hidden danger for swimmers. Rip currents form when waves create an underwater sandbar that collapses, causing water to rush back to the sea through a narrow gap. They are common at any beach with waves and can occur during stormy or sunny weather.

It is crucial for beachgoers to understand the risks associated with rip currents and how to protect themselves and others. The United States Lifesaving Association estimates that over 100 people drown each year in the U.S. due to rip currents. These currents can move at speeds of up to 8 feet per second, making them faster than an Olympic swimmer. In the event of encountering a rip current, staying calm and not exhausting oneself by swimming against it are key to survival.

If you see someone caught in a rip current, it is important to avoid putting yourself in danger by attempting a rescue. Instead, notify authorities and follow any instructions provided by lifeguards. By being aware of beach warning flags, understanding rip current characteristics, and knowing how to respond in an emergency, beach visitors can enjoy the ocean safely. Remember, the ocean is a powerful force, and rip currents are a reminder of the importance of respecting its unpredictable nature.

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