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John Lindsey

Sealions sun themselves on a buoy off the Central Coast.

With the interior of California starting to warm up, many people will make their way to the Central Coast to enjoy the Pacific Ocean and the mild temperatures.

For those venturing into the ocean, longshore and rip currents pose a safety concern, especially for our vigilant and brave lifeguards, who may have to rescue us.

Longshore or littoral currents occur in the surf zone and are caused by waves approaching the beach at an angle.

Along most of our beaches, the waves are often out of the northwest or the Southern Hemisphere.

If you swim or surf along our beaches where the waves are approaching at an angle, you will most likely become aware of the longshore current as it will push you down or up the coastline.

In other words, you enter the surf zone at one location and before you know it, you are many yards farther down or up the beach from where you started.

At times, the current can be hardly noticeable; but at other times, it can be quite strong.

Generally, longshore currents increase with increased wave height and a greater angle between the wave crests and bottom contours of the beach.

A longshore current can flow out to sea. I have seen these develop at the down current end of a beach, where a headland deflects the longshore current seaward.

Rip currents are generally narrow and swift-moving streams of water that flow from the beach, through the breaker zone, out to sea, then fan out behind the breakers and become quite diffused.

If you find yourself in a rip current, swim parallel to the beach until you are out of the rip.

Never try to swim against a rip, as you could become quickly tired and hypothermic in the cold waters of the Central Coast.

The strength or location of the rip current is unpredictable.

When they occur, they may be irregularly or evenly spaced along the beach; some of the rips may be weak while others can be quite strong.

Of course, many other currents exist along our coastline: near-surface currents produced by the local winds, tidal currents, the California current (a cold, southerly flowing current that usually occurs during the late winter and continues through the summer months), the Davison current (a warm, northerly flowing current that usually occurs during the fall and early winter months) and eddies that derive from these.

For a safe day at the beach, always keep a close eye on your family members and others around you.

Spring River Safety Tips: With the exceptional California snowpack melting as temperatures rise, rivers and streams are full of dangerously cold and swift moving water this spring. PG&E encourages water enthusiasts to take extra precautions when in or near waterways, especially around hydroelectric facilities and dams, where water flows can change rapidly. Anglers are also encouraged to take precautions as trout season opens April 27 for most California rivers.

California’s snowpack measured 175 percent of normal in early April, ensuring cold runoff well into summer. “Public safety is our highest priority. We encourage everyone recreating in or near water to know at all times how they can quickly get out or away. Put safety first, especially while outdoors,” said Debbie Powell, PG&E’s vice president of power generation.

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John Lindsey is PG&E’s Diablo Canyon Power Plant marine meteorologist and a media relations representative. Email him at pgeweather@pge.com or follow him on Twitter: @PGE_John.

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