Effects of El Nino Will Linger at Beaches

Beach conditions during this post-El Nino spring and summer could be more dangerous than usual. The seasonal movement of sand appears to be more extreme, creating deeper inshore holes and stronger rip currents. Sandy-bottomed beaches from Orange County to Malibu have these holes, which are slowly filling in. Also, an excess of urban storm runoff is expected to affect water quality through July.

Hole hazard near shore

A. Heavy waves from storms push sand out to sea during winter, creating an uneven bottom where holes form. In spring, holes fill in as waves subside, but shallow and deep patches still exist.

B. These inshore holes also appear as long trenches. They can be found from

five feet offshore to out near breaking waves.

C. Holes are characterized by deep-colored flat areas where surf isn't breaking.

D. These holes act as "feeders," channeling water into rip currents. Water rushes into the deep spot, then rushes back to sea. Unsuspecting swimmers can be swept into these deep holes.

Holes also exist near piers and where creeks empty into the ocean. After storms, these creek mouths erode, creating a ditch that becomes an inshore hole. A month of flat conditions fills

Water quality report

Water samples taken from Santa Monica Bay beaches are graded by Heal the Bay on the risk of adverse health effects. Samples are taken in wet and dry weather. Grades for April:


Location Dry Wet Leo Carrillo State Beach A+ A+ Broad Beach A+ A+ Westward Beach A+ A+ Corral State Beach A+ A+ Surfrider County Beach* F F Malibu Pier F A+ Topanga State Beach* F F Pac. Coast Hwy. & Sunset Blvd. A+ A+ Will Rogers State Beach A+ A+ Santa Monica Canyon* F D Santa Monica (Montana Ave.) A+ A+ Santa Monica Pier* D F Venice City Beach (Brooks Ave.) A+ C Venice Pier C F Mother's Beach* (lifeguard tower) B F Ballona Creek* A+ D Dockweiler State Beach* A+ D Manhattan Beach Pier* A+ A+ Hermosa Beach (26th St.) A+ A+ Hermosa Beach Pier* A+ A+ Redondo Beach Pier* D A+ Malaga Cove* A+ A+ Palos Verdes Cove A+ A+ Cabrillo Beach* (oceanside) A+ A+


*Daily sample taken; all others weekly

Lifeguard operations

Many rescues are riptide-related, according to L.A. County lifeguards. Last year set a record, due in part to warmer water courtesy of El Nino.


Year Rescues Attendance 1983* 12,428 78,899,604 1984 12,853 75,636,665 1985 7,498 59,622,884 1986 6,703 51,694,962 1987* 7,063 55,893,551 1988 4.960 59,561,476 1989 9,169 60,259,880 1990 8,561 56,337,739 1991 6,008 46,155,378 1992 11,729 58,024,023 1993* 10,466 55,265,657 1994* 8,311 50,369 739 1995 5,824 41,725,117 1996 11,216 53,188,115 1997* 14,096 53,594,562


* Strong El Nino years

Escaping a rip current

Rip currents are commonly created when a large amount of water is funneled by beach topography into narrow channels, then out to sea. A common mistake by swimmers in a rip current is trying to swim straight to shore. The proper way to escape:

A. Allow current to move you seaward; don't try to swim against the current, as thiscan drain your strength.

B. Once the current weakens--normally less than 100 yards from shore--swim parallel to the beach until the rip current disappears.

C. Swim toward the shore, riding incoming waves if possible.

Sources: County of Los Angeles Fire Department Lifeguard Operations; Surfrider Foundation; Heal the Bay. Researched by JULIE SHEER/ Los Angeles Times

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