187 beach rescues in one day amid rip currents: How to save yourself

Lifeguards performed 187 rescues at L.A. County beaches Tuesday as swimmers got caught in strong rip currents

Lifeguards made 187 rescues at Los Angeles County beaches Tuesday -- 88 of them at Venice Beach alone. 

The rescues unfolded as an estimated 255,000 people visited county beaches, trying to escape the intense heat wave that has gripped Los Angeles this week. The beaches were experiencing powerful rip currents Tuesday, and some swimmers underestimated their pull. 

Rip currents occur as incoming surf traps water near the shoreline. The water then flows along the shore until it reaches a dip in the floor, which channels the water back out to sea, creating a fast-moving current that can snare swimmers.

To escape a rip current, officials say swimmers should allow themselves to be carried seaward until the current weakens, then swim parallel to the beach until out of its grasp.

A powerful storm near New Zealand has been pounding California's coastline with higher than normal surf and unusually strong rip currents, said National Weather Service meteorologist Stuart Seto.

The storm’s wind is pushing swells north, where about five days later they hit the West Coast, Seto said. By the time the swells hit L.A. County beaches, they’re more spread out than a typical wave set and have more energy.

A normal swell may crash into the California coast every 10 seconds, but the New Zealand weather system is spreading them out to up to 17 seconds, Seto said. The longer set times create strong rip currents that can more easily pull swimmers out to sea.

Waves are currently peaking at about 5 feet, Seto said.

Tuesday’s rescues only added to what has become an exceptionally busy year for county lifeguards.

An estimated 61.4 million people have visited area beaches since the beginning of the year, about 7 million more than the average, county officials announced last week. During that time, lifeguards have performed more than 11,600 rescues.

Acting Chief Lifeguard Steve Moseley said California’s historically warm year and a series of strong swells have combined to create more dangerous conditions in the water for beachgoers seeking relief from the heat.

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