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Strong rip currents lash coast

Beachgoers are warned of danger

Horseneck Beach in Westport is frequently at risk for rip currents.

Dina Rudick/Globe Staff/file

Horseneck Beach in Westport is frequently at risk for rip currents.

Although Hurricane Bertha passed more than 300 miles east of Cape Cod on Wednesday, the wrath of her winds created a dangerous threat of rip currents on the south coast of the state.

The National Weather Service warned of high risk rip currents to south coast areas such as Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard, and Newport. The warning came Wednesday as surf heights grew to 6 to 8 feet and lasted into the evening, the forecasters said.

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The strong tides and dangerous rip currents generated on Wednesday passed through the coast with no reports of serious injuries or incidents. However, meteorologists used Wednesday’s warning as a reminder to beachgoers of how dangerous rip tides can be.

“Rip currents can become life-threatening,” the forecasters said in a statement Wednesday.

Rip currents are strong channels of water flowing away from the beach that can be subtle yet extremely hazardous to swimmers, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. These currents are often shaped by obstructions such as sandbars and jetties when a strong storm is near.

To the unsuspecting swimmer, rip currents can appear as areas of choppy water and can seem to have a different color than surrounding waves, weather service meteorologist Bill Simpson said in a recent interview with the Globe. Since the tug of a rip current can be subtle, a person might not feel the pull until they have been moved several yards — a great danger for beachgoers.

The weather service said it received reports of especially strong rip currents at Horseneck Beach in Westport on Wednesday morning.

“Horseneck Beach is always vulnerable to rip currents,” Simpson said Wednesday.

Simpson said Horseneck Beach is often the site of rip currents because it faces south and therefore gets strong southwestern winds.

No beaches were closed along Martha’s Vineyard because of Wednesday’s warning of rip currents, however Christopher Kennedy, the Vineyard’s superintendent of the Trustees of Reservations, said beach rangers strongly encouraged visitors to exercise extreme caution when on the beach, and to also “think twice before swimming.”

Warnings were issued for Long Point Wildlife Refuge, Norton Point Beach, and Wasque Beach, Kennedy said. The beaches are on the south side of the island and are most susceptible to swells created by storms traveling off the coast, as Bertha was.

Kennedy said Wednesday that he expected conditions to return to normal, allowing for safer water conditions for beachgoers by Thursday.

In the case of a rip current, Simpson recently said that it is important for people to alert a lifeguard if a swimmer seems to be in danger.

“A lot of people end up drowning when they try to help someone in danger,” he said. “The outgoing swimmer trying to save someone, they can get pulled down by the struggling swimmer.”

Officials at Easton’s Beach and Sachuest Beach in Newport, said although the surf was a little bit rougher than usual Wednesday, people were still swimming there.

Tim Coen, manager of Sachuest Beach, said the beach had waves 4 to 5 feet high Wednesday — levels much higher than normal.

“The waves are rolling in pretty heavily,” Coen said. “It’s a rough day, but a nice day.”

The weather service also issued small craft advisories Wednesday. The warning was lifted by 8 p.m.

Jeremy C. Fox contributed to the reporting of this article. Trisha Thadani can be reached at trisha.thadani@globe.com. Martin Finucane can be reached at mfinucane@globe.com.
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