CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Four people have drowned on area beaches this year, most recently last week; and last weekend, at least two other people nearly drowned.
Rip currents are blamed in most of those incidents.
So far this year, sea level averages at Bob Hall Pier are the highest they’ve been since 2010. That, combined with other environmental factors, have led to dangerous conditions this summer.
“We've had a few green flag days, but more often this summer we've had yellow and red flag days,” said Scott Cross, director of Nueces County Coastal Parks.
When the National Weather Service issues a Red Flag Warning, that means high surf and dangerous currents. Add strong winds and you have a recipe for rip currents.
"Those high onshore winds drive the water towards the beach, so we have higher water levels,” said Dr. Phillipe Tissot, interim director and researcher at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi’s Charles Blucher Institute. “They also drive waves, and they also drive conditions that are favorable to rip currents.”
Researchers like Tissot are trained to spot trends in tides. He says El Nino conditions and strong winds are partially to blame for the higher tides, but scientists are still trying to quantify other causes.
While it's nearly impossible to predict when or where a rip current will form, areas around piers, like Bob Hall Pier, are especially susceptible.
“The way the pier pilings are, the tide comes in and creates a natural rip going out,” said Cross. “That's why we have the giant 4'x8' metal signs on the north and south side of each pier, right at the beach.”
There are also rip current warnings posted on pavilions near the pier. Despite these efforts, swimmers still ignore the signs, putting themselves at risk.
"We're trying to plug every hole we can, but folks are going to have to pay attention to the warning signs we have out there and educate themselves,” Cross said.