Beaches reopen, but officials warn swimmers of rip current risk along southern Mass. coast

David Caillouette waded into the water off Orleans with his twins, Aidan and Madeline, on Sunday.
David Caillouette waded into the water off Orleans with his twins, Aidan and Madeline, on Sunday. The Boston Globe

As officials reopened beaches in Westport and on Nantucket to swimming Thursday, they asked beachgoers to be careful of dangerous rip currents and stick close to areas monitored by life guards.

The rip currents were a lingering effect of Tropical Storm Chris, and in Massachusetts, forecasters on Thursday reported a “moderate risk” of rip currents along the south coast of Nantucket, where the surf and seas are currently highest, according to William Babcock, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s office in Norton.

A moderate risk means swimmers should check with a local beach patrol to know what local swimming conditions are like, he said. Swimmers should also be safe, and take steps like keep a flotation device with them.


“People in that part of the state need to remain alert if they’re planning to go into the water,” Babcock said.

On Nantucket, south coast beaches were open after being closed yesterday due to the threat of rip currents, the island’s harbor master wrote in a Twitter post.

The harbor master asked swimmers to be cautious: “Beaches may not be flying red flags, but please exercise caution if you are planning on swimming on the south shore today,” according to the Twitter post.

In Westport, the state Department of Conservation and Recreation re-opened the Horseneck Beach State Reservation and Gooseberry Island, the agency said in a statement Thursday.

Visitors to the park needed “to swim in the designated area at the beach, where lifeguards are stationed, and to use caution while swimming following yesterday’s high surf conditions and strong rip currents,” the agency said.

Kevin Whalen, the department’s director of aquatics, said a caution flag is out on Horseneck Beach, and on the beach, staff there are alerting the public about the potential risk of rip currents, plus warnings are posted on message boards.


“We have been pretty proactive in having an action plan to deal with this,” Whalen said.

Tropical Storm Chris was about 290 miles southeast of Nova Scotia early Thursday, with maximum sustained winds of about 70 miles per hour, according to the National Hurricane Center.

The storm, which had been downgraded from hurricane status, was expected to continue weakening Thursday, and become a post-tropical cyclone later Thursday.

Even as the storm’s path takes it away from the United States, swells generated by Chris will affect portions of the coast from North Carolina northward to New England during the next few days, according to hurricane center forecasters.

Babcock, with the weather service, said surf levels along Nantucket’s coast were dropping off Thursday. The weather service hadn’t yet forecasted the rip current risk for Nantucket for Friday, he said.

For coastal areas in the rest of Massachusetts on Thursday, Babcock said those areas were at a low rip current risk. But he warned that people should remain alert while swimming.

“A ‘low risk’ does not mean ‘no risk,’ ” Babcock said. “People should remain alert to the possibility of rip currents, even if the risk is low.”

Jeff Hall, a spokesman for the Massachusetts office of the American Red Cross, said that generally, rip currents aren’t wide, and swimming about 50 to 100 feet parallel to the shoreline should allow a person to break free.

Hall said he was caught in a rip current himself while living in Florida, and said the most important thing for any swimmer to remember while facing one is to not panic.


But people should stick close to swimming areas monitored by a life guard, he said.

“They can see someone being pulled out in a rip current, and they can assist you,” said Hall.

John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com