Dimensions and plan morphology of current ripples are generally considered to vary with flow velocity and grain size. Recently, however, it has been shown that for sand of D50=0.095 and 0.238 mm the equilibrium dimensions are identical at all velocities within the stability field of ripples and that the plan form of equilibrium ripples is linguoid. On this basis, an empirical unsteady flow model has been developed and tested with flume experiments in order to predict ripple development in natural depositional environments. The model includes the development of washed-out ripples and upper stage plane bed. The unsteady flow model explains the development and preservation of small scale bedforms in various tidal environments more accurately than previous models. Such bedforms can serve, therefore, as indicators of prevailing hydrodynamic conditions.