180 miles of Oregon coast travel: Astoria, Seaside, Cannon Beach, Manzanita,
Nehalem, Wheeler, Rockaway, Garibaldi, Tillamook, Oceanside, Pacific City,
Lincoln City, Depoe Bay, Newport, Waldport, Yachats & Florence.
Oregon Coast Rescues Up This Year, Due to
Rip Currents, Cliffs
|Pristine places like Arch Cape can be deadly if you turn your back,
or you start goofing around a cliff in the wrong way
(Oregon Coast) – They are often mistakenly called
“rip tides” and they have been the scourge of rescuers and
bereaved families all summer long.
In many places along the Oregon coast, it’s been
apparently a record year for rescues and problems, with a variety of high-profile
deaths caused by rip currents that have made the news all over the northwest.
It usually starts with an innocent swim or someone wading in the water.
It ends with a big news story on TV about someone missing for days until
their body washes up, or they are thankfully rescued by a someone standing
nearby or by a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter.
The weekend of July 27 saw what was called a record number
of rescues on the north Oregon coast, according to Coast Guard authorities
in Astoria. The reports of these calls and of drownings are higher than
usual around the coast, with the north coast seeing a larger spike this
|Several high-profile incidents happened in Cannon Beach recently,
mostly involving rip currents
U.S Coast Guard authorities in Astoria told The Daily Astorian
newspaper they were stretched thin that weekend with so many calls. Helicopters
could not respond to everyone, and approximately ten incidents ended with
passersby doing the rescuing.
On the central coast, the U.S. Coast Guard headquarters
at North Bend reported that weekend and this past weekend as being unusually
high in rescue calls as well, with July being twice than some previous
One expert in Newport, however, believed things were improving
in that area.
Lt. Joshua Steffen is the public information officer for
the U.S. Coast Guard in North Bend, Oregon, which oversees operations
from the California border to Cape Lookout, almost 300 miles of coastline.
He hesitated to call these weekends “record-breakers,” as
he didn’t have the exact numbers for comparison, but the rescue
calls are exceptionally high.
“In July, it was about twice as July of last year,”
Steffen said. “And it’s triple than what it was this May and
June. We just had two beach cases this past weekend, and something like
14 for July.”
|Steffen said there a lot of incidents on the Siuslaw River at Florence
One of the biggest culprits is rip currents, which happen
when all the water trying to get through the sandbars just offshore and
beneath the waves finds a gap, and then rushes out back to sea with a
lot of pent up energy.
Another huge problem is people falling off cliffs, said
Steffen. That has been a large helping of the calls his office has had
to respond to. “We’re getting that more than ever,”
he said. “They’re crossing the vegetation to get a better
look and falling off.”
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For much of the summer, the water has been exceptionally
warm, clocking in at around 66 degrees in the latter half of July - although
it has lately cooled off considerably by about ten degrees. It’s
made for inviting wading and swimming in an ocean that is normally quite
chilly. This has brought more people in, and they’ve become the
victim of rip currents.
OSU scientists say a rip current is formed by a complex
set of dynamics near the shore. Waves coming in break over a sandbar,
exhausting their energy on the land, and sliding back towards the ocean.
The sandbar traps large amounts of water that can’t slide back over
it, so it swirls around with a great amount of energy, forming strong
currents on the landward side of the sandbar.
|Portlander Pilar French plays in the surf on the north coast - but
keeps her eye on the tide
Every once in a while, a break or low point in that sandbar
allows those strong currents through to the sea, thus creating the rip
current. These suck water and debris back in at around three feet per
“Water follows the path of least resistance,”
said Keith Chandler, manager of Seaside Aquarium.
Chandler has seen quite a few rescues this summer, and
some really stupid behavior.
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“I’ve watched a bunch of rescues lately,”
Chandler said. “I saw two or three recently in Seaside, and in Fort
Stevens and Cannon Beach. They don’t seem to be thinking all the
He was shocked and dismayed to see one group of kids actually
playing in the wake made by a Coast Guard helicopter rescuing someone
in the water. “There they were, just riding the wake made by the
helicopter. I couldn’t believe it.”
The problem this summer, Steffen believes - along with
many other experts – is that there are sizably more tourists on
the coast. Some are saying they’re just doing dumber things out
there as well.
|Boiler Bay, near Depoe Bay: a pair of teens disappeared here during
a winter storm a few years ago
“I’d say there’s definitely more people
on the beaches, so you’re getting more smarter people and more of
the dumber ones too,” Steffen said. “One of those dumb ones
happened on the south coast this past weekend where some guy fell off
a cliff. He climbed over a fence that was supposed to keep him away.”
In Newport, Guy DiTorrice believed his organization was
responding to fewer calls. DiTorrice is part of the Newport Volunteer
Fire & Rescue, and he’s seen a decrease there.
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“There were two problems on the Saturday of the previous
weekend, but they were self-rescued,” he said. “There’s
not fewer people out here, by any means. But they may just be better at
the beach these days.”
DiTorrice said they’ve mostly been called to help
surfers or deal with brush fires.
|Newport: officials there are reporting less incidents
“There’s still the potential for big problems,
though,” he said. “August is the busiest month on the coast.”
Another problem with the rip currents is the nicer weather
and warmer waters, said Steffen. Good weather brings out more people,
but warmer water coaxes them in. “There has been more of that this
year,” he said. “This year’s warmer temperatures are
tempting people to get in without a wet suit. It seems as if it’s
a lot of out of town guys – surfers who don’t know the rip
currents or the waters.”
Steffen guessed that was probably the case with those who
get sucked out by simply wading in the water. They’re probably not
used to the Oregon coast, nor do they understand what waves here can do
at any given moment.
|Seaside: where no one has drowned in years
“The wave are not all the same size,” Steffen
said. “They come in sets. You get one set that’s kind of small,
and another that’s much bigger. If they’ve got their back
to the surf, all of a sudden they can be in over their waist before they
know it, and they’re getting pulled out. They didn’t see it
Steffen said the U.S. Coast Guard doesn’t have data
on where these victims are from – whether they’re a family
from the Midwest or if they’re actually from the coast - so he couldn’t
say with exact statistics how aware of coastal conditions these people
should be. But he said news reports generally indicated tourists from
the valley or beyond.
He also said he’s not sure why these situations happen.
“We don’t have any geographic studies that say where they’re
from,” he said. “And we don’t really talk to them about
how it happened or what exactly happened. We just pick them up and drop
them off at a hospital. We’re kind of in a little bubble up there
in the helicopter.”
said these rip currents can grab you even if you’re just wading
in the ocean. There are occasionally sudden drops in the terrain of the
tide line that plunge you into deeper water, and put you at the mercy
of one of these currents.
“Look where you’re going and always be aware
of your surroundings,” said Chandler. He suggested even staying
close to where lifeguards are if you’re wading in the water or surfing.
Chandler noted that no one has drowned in Seaside
in recent years, saying that town is careful about watching what goes
on around that beach.
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run across your feet
Transformations of Oregon Coast Beaches Seasons change
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or Night Mysteries and Merriment on Oregon Coast It's
more than just nightlife that comes to life, but the beaches offer major
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