(Aug. 19, 2022) This is the time of the year when visitors to the beach could possibly be entertained by the formation of tide pools.
I remember playing in them when I was a kid, and it was always a good time.
Water that forms a pool on the beach is a normal occurrence that typically happens during this time in the season. We commonly refer to them as tide pools.
However, they are not only formed by the outgoing tide but are also formed when large waves are driven further onto the beach by wind or during storms.
Tropical activity in the Atlantic during this time of the year can cause larger than usual waves and surf conditions (also causing stronger rip currents).
When this happens, these waves bring more water onto the beach and if it becomes trapped in a low area a “tide pool” may form.
These low areas on the beach are formed as waves push sand into large mounds running parallel to the shore with the area behind the mound (to the west) being lower than this newly formed retaining mound.
As water is pushed over this mound, it cannot make its way back into the ocean as runoff and becomes trapped in the low-lying area.
Although the amount of water, the size of the low-lying area and the depth of low-lying area may vary from a few inches to a few feet deep and the size may be as small as a backyard pool or as large as several city blocks, most tide pools are only a few inches deep and less than a block long.
Because of the relatively small quantity of water, the sun heats it and it is much warmer than the ocean and it usually has no wave action making it very inviting.
When a child comes to the beach and finds a tide pool, they become very excited. It is like having a backyard pool on the beach. However, tide pools pose their own dangers.
Because a tide pool seems like the perfect place for small children to play, parents often do not give the same attention to their children as they would if they were playing in the ocean or in a pool.
Further complicating this is the fact that most often the tide pool ends up forming behind the guard stands.
This means that the surf rescue technician (lifeguard) is only scanning this area as part of their secondary scan giving much less attention to this water hazard than the large body of water directly in front of them.
Parents often have a false sense of security due to the shallow depth of most of these tide pools but those of us in water safety realize it only takes 1 inch of water to drown a toddler.
A second hazard associated with this phenomenon is the risk of injuries from running and jumping into such a shallow area.
Although not a safety concern, another potential issue has to do with the trapped water becoming stagnant, dirty, and smelly.
Therefore, the Public Works Maintenance Department sculpts the beach to facilitate the drainage of these tide pools after they have remained for a couple of days, although in most cases the beach is self-correcting, and the water is allowed to drain on its own.
Sometimes you might find a tide pool that behaves more like a waterslide or river than a pool. I got to witness this a few years ago in the northern area of Ocean City.
In this instance, wave action was bringing more water into the low area while breaks in the retaining mound allow water to flow back into the ocean resulting in strong currents being formed in the tide pool.
When this happens, the tide pool becomes far more dangerous as people playing in the tide pool might find themselves washed into the ocean.
This action is the perfect model of what is happening out in the ocean as waves come across the underwater sand bar and then make there way back out to the deeper water, which is the mechanics and cause of the deadly rip currents you have heard so much about.
Ocean City is a barrier island, which is a dynamic ever-changing environment, located between the ocean and a back bay and behaves in a unique way compared to other types of beaches around the world.
Rip currents, tide-pools, steep drop-offs at the crest of the beach as well as other natural occurrences are all very normal and have existed for all of my years of coming to Ocean City and for hundreds of years before.
What is different, are recent changes in worldwide weather events, such as warmer ocean waters closer to shore, changes in prevailing ocean currents in recent years, increased tropical activity in the Atlantic and an overall change in climate patterns (based on historical data from NOAA).
Warmer water is a major contributor to topical storm activity. These tropical events are like giant engines that use warm, moist air as fuel.
All of these special circumstances can also be seen at barrier island beaches throughout the world based on prevailing weather patterns.
Although I have given some cautions about tide pools, they can be fun when enjoyed safely.
This season, small tide pools have already formed in a couple of locations. Hopefully, you will be lucky enough to see one and pass along our cautions to the people you are with.
And remember, you can always introduce yourself to the lifeguard and ask them any questions that you have. They are a more than happy to inform you about the current beach conditions.
As we move into the late summer season, Ocean City can expect more exciting and fun acts of nature to reveal themselves. You never know what you are going to get with Mother Nature.
Another annual occurrence that has already begun is the reduction in the number of available staff due to other obligations, such as returning to school, which results in a greater distance between our surf rescue technician stands. So, make sure you walk and swim in front of the nearest lifeguard.