Rip current risk for Bay Area beaches

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The sun is shiny enough to bring a lot of people to Clearwater Beach and 73-degree water is warm enough to entice a dip. But the National Weather Service warns rip currents could ruin a day of fun in the sun. 

But the waves? 

"There was a big wave that didn't look that big, that powerful, so I thought I could just jump over it" Taleea Landrum of Tennessee told FOX 13 News, "But when that one came, it took me down hard.  It was bad, it was really bad."

What she felt was just short of rip tide or rip current. 

"A rip currents is a tide that flows out towards the sea" Clearwater Beach Water Safety Supervisor Patrick Brafford explained, "That creates panic in some people, panic leads to exhaustion, and after exhaustion bad things can happen."

Rip currents are channels of water that flow away from shore. They are powerful and can occur in low spots, breaks in a sandbar, or near jetties and piers.

Brafford is in charge of the lifeguards who posted yellow "moderate hazard" flags Tuesday, expecting to do so again Wednesday. 

The National Weather Service has issued a high surf and high rip current advisory through Wednesday afternoon.  Elevated seas are combining with an eastward moving long period swell in the Gulf of Mexico.  That means a whole lot of water coming in and if multiple big waves break at the same time, a whole lot of water going back out. 

That powerful return flow is a rip current.

Brafford reinforced commonly dispensed advice:  Don't try to fight the rip current, just be prepared to ride it out. 

"Once you feel the current release you, try to swim parallel to shore, out of that current, and then angle yourself in and swim in towards shore" Brafford explained.

The NWS advisory states the greatest potential for rip currents are at low spots of breaks in a sandbar and in the vicinity of structures such as grains, jetties and piers.