The Ocean City Beach Patrol is warning beach-goers to beware of high tides and rip currents this weekend as Hurricane Bill churns in the Atlantic Ocean.
"If you're not a good swimmer, don't even think about going into the water," said Lt. Ward Kovacs.
Kovacs said all 92 lifeguard chairs will be filled this weekend in Ocean City in anticipation of a large crowd looking to take advantage of the waves created by the hurricane as summer winds down. Bill is not expected to make landfall, but instead languish in the Atlantic Ocean hundreds of miles away and head north up the Eastern Seaboard.
The National Weather Service is projecting 7- to 15-foot waves and swells along Maryland beaches as the storm passes. The danger is enhanced by high tides generated by the new moon.
By Friday evening, beach patrol officials said the wind and surf had picked up slightly.
Hurricane Bill had weakened Friday, with top sustained winds falling to 105 mph amid increasing disorder in its central structure. But it remained a Category 2 storm and a continuing threat to Bermuda and the eastern beaches of the U.S. The Canadian Maritime Provinces were also on alert.
The storm's center was expected to pass between Bermuda and the U.S. today.
In Maryland, the biggest danger is posed by the rip currents the storm will generate.
Rip currents are narrow channels of water moving out to sea. They typically extend from the shoreline through the surf zone and past the line of breaking waves, according to the weather service, and often appear smaller than regular waves and tempting for swimmers. The result, according to Kovacs, is that "the least experienced swimmers are going out into the most dangerous area."
According to the weather service, more people die every year from rip currents than from shark attacks, tornadoes or lightning.
Kovacs said that swimmers should avoid the water when no lifeguards are present. Lifeguards will be on the beaches from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily.
Swimmers who do get caught in a rip current should not try to swim against it, but swim along the shoreline until they are out of the current, he said.