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Arthur means high risk of rip currents off LI beaches

Predicted rip currents off Long Island's ocean beaches until at least Saturday afternoon likely will mean smaller swimming areas, and people should heed the red-flag boundaries posted by lifeguards, officials said Wednesday.

The National Weather Service, in a warning, said there is a high risk of rip currents from Brooklyn's Coney Island east to at least Fire Island until Saturday afternoon, meteorologist David Stark said. The strong currents stem from Tropical Storm Arthur, which was churning its way up the East Coast and is expected to pass well east of Montauk between tomorrow afternoon and Saturday afternoon.

Dustin Gunderson, a law enforcement specialist who heads the lifeguard program at Fire Island National Seashore, said beaches will remain open for now.

"If NOAA told us that people shouldn't be swimming, we'd probably close the beaches," Gunderson said, referring to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "But we haven't heard that."

In the weather service's definition, rip currents are "powerful channels of water" that flow quickly away from the shore and toward the sea. They most often occur at low spots and breaks in sandbars, or near structures such as jetties and piers.

Gunderson said that Fire Island will "reduce" the beach to a smaller swimming area. Green and red flags on the shore will mark the permissible area, but lifeguards in stands and walking the shore will be ready to call back people who are swimming outside the boundaries or who are in need of help, he said.

Swimmers, if caught in a rip current, should swim parallel to the shore and only attempt to swim back to the beach once they feel they are free of the current, the weather service said.

"Don't swim alone," said Stark, who is based in the weather service's Upton station. "When we put up a high-risk current, it's a situation where some beaches might have certain areas that are safer than others."

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