DESTIN — A low pressure system off Texas generated rough waves that made their way to the Emerald Coast on Monday, leading to high number of rescues in Destin, Navarre Beach and Okaloosa Island, and a spinal injury in South Walton County.
Joe D’Agostino, beach safety director for the Destin Fire Control District, said his lifeguards rescued more than 40 people from the Gulf of Mexico on Monday. The people were mostly caught in rip currents that resulted from groundswell, a weather event that’s rare in the Gulf but can produce large waves and rip currents.
“People here associate bad water conditions with bad weather,” D’Agostino said. “But waves are a product of wind over water over distance, so it’s kind of like if you throw a pebble in a puddle and you see how far the ripples go, that’s what’s happening here. The center of the low (pressure system) is way in the Bay of Campeche, but these waves traveled about 30 mph and wound up on our beaches (Monday).”
The low pressure system is currently centered over the Texas coast and is expected to produce heavy rain there and in Louisiana, according to the National Weather Service.
In South Walton, Beach Safety Director David Vaughan said his lifeguards had rescued two people from the Gulf on Monday, but had made 55 assists between Friday and Monday. One of the people rescued was a boogie boarder who was overtaken by a wave, hit his head on a sand bar and suffered a spinal injury.
Vaughan said lifeguards also reunited 11 lost children with their families.
In Panama City Beach, two people drowned Monday in addition to two Georgia men who drowned over the weekend. Seven people have drowned in Panama City Beach this year, up from three during all of 2017.
On Okaloosa Island, Beach Safety Chief Rich Huffnagle said the beach was at about 80 percent capacity and his lifeguards pulled eight people from the water, a high number for them.
“It’s our standard operation on red flag days to make 100 percent contact” with beachgoers, Huffnagle said. “We tell people that flotation devices are not a good idea for that day; just stay out of the water, and that’s pretty effective. But eight rescues for us in a single day is relatively high, especially when you consider that every single rescue means someone’s life is in jeopardy.”
Navarre Beach lifeguards also dealt with rough surf, according to Navarre Beach Fire Chief Danny Fureigh. He said lifeguards pulled 28 people out of the Gulf on Monday.
“The rip currents are bad this year, so it’s not unusual to have so many rescues when red flags are prevailing,” he said.
No water-related deaths were reported. Officials said only a small number of people pulled from the water required hospital treatment.