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Hurricane Nicole changed Volusia’s beaches. That’s adding to the rip tide risk

 Visiting patrons catch sun rays and waves this month at New Smyrna Beach. Lifeguards emphasize swimming in front of lifeguard towers because of dangerous rip currents.
Joe Mario Pedersen
Visiting patrons catch sun rays and waves this month at New Smyrna Beach. Lifeguards emphasize swimming in front of lifeguard towers because of dangerous rip currents.

Officials expect more rescued-filled days as tourism show no sign of stopping after the November hurricane changed much of Volusia’s 47-mile beachscape, leading to more rip current conditions.

Volusia County Beach Safety is preparing for a busy summer for rescue attempts.

Over the past two weekends, lifeguards have made over 500 rescues, according to Beach Safety. The majority of the incidents were due in part to storm conditions off the coast.

However, November’s Hurricane Nicole changed much of Volusia’s 47-mile beachscape. Volusia is now observing higher than normal high tides and more rip current conditions than usual.

"The hurricanes hit us pretty hard, coming through the beaches, it broke little bits (under the water), created sandbars," said Beach Safety Capt. Tamra Malphurs. "After the hurricanes, we saw higher than normal tides just because there was less profile on the beach. That is building back up naturally. So it is a lot better than it was but we are still seeing higher than normal tides when the tide comes in and we have that larger surf, so we may be closed longer during high tide for driving."

Malphurs said the county is expecting more rescued-filled days as Volusia’s tourism -- and rip currents -- show no sign of stopping.

“Make sure you're swimming in front of those staff lifeguard towers, she said. "Don't come to the beach after hours, everyone has gone home for the day and get in the water. If there's not a lifeguard don't enter the water. That is so important.”

Malphurs said two teenagers swam away without lifeguard towers present on Memorial Day and were caught in a rip current. Both were rescued, but one remains in critical condition.

Additionally, Malphurs wants to remind visitors of the dangers of being swept up by rip currents.

“Even the strongest of swimmers get caught and recurrent,” she said.

So far, four people have died on Florida beaches due to rip currents, according to the National Weather Service. All four took place in February. Two were men younger than 21 years old.

To stay on top of beach conditions, Volusia released a mobile App available to the public.

Malphurs also said the national lifeguard shortage exacerbates the issue. The American Red Cross acknowledged that a shortage has gone on for the last couple of years and is looking for new hires. Malphurs said that the shortage is still being felt. Volusia Beach Rescue has 200 guards but only 30% work regularly.

"We're not sure exactly what if it's this generation or if it's the workload thing, you know? It's very labor intensive," she said. "But it's awesome. And if you're like me, I love being outdoors all the time, you get to sit outside all day on the beach!"

The county is asking more people to join the lifeguard team and created a number of new incentives, including $500 bonuses for those who work weekends and holidays.

Nicole made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane near Vero Beach on Nov. 10. Strong swells in combination with high tides brought devastating storm surge and coastal flooding. Nicole then crossed the state as a tropical storm, bringing high winds and heavy rain.

Copyright 2023 Health News Florida

Joe Mario Pedersen - WMFE