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Storms tear up seafloor, causing riptides, huge spike in rescues

A summer of Pacific storms and hurricanes has significantly changed the seafloor along California's coast, fueling stronger riptides and triggering more rescues by lifeguards, officials said Wednesday.

Though it's not always apparent from land, the currents that skirt the California coast constantly move and shape the sandy ocean floor, creating troughs and bumps that beachgoers sometimes depend on while wading into the water.

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But the powerful series of weather systems this summer in the Pacific Ocean have supercharged that process.

"These west, east, southern hemisphere swells moving in … it really tears up the [ocean] bottom," L.A. County Lifeguard Section Chief Chris Linkletter said.

During the summer, all that action typically adds sand to Los Angeles County's coastline, Linkletter said.

But this year, the storms and swells are doing the opposite and eroding the beaches.

The corrosive effects have allowed dips in the sea floor to edge closer to the shoreline, creating the stronger riptides that pull swimmers out into deeper waters, said National Weather Service meteorologist Stuart Seto.

The end result: a huge spike in the number of rescues performed by Los Angeles County lifeguards.

"In all of our areas, it has been more hazardous than other summers," Linkletter said.

Nearly 12,000 ocean rescues have been logged along the county's beaches so far in 2014, officials reported.

Part of that has been driven by attendance. An estimated 61.4 million people have visited local beaches since the beginning of the year, about 7 million more than the average, county officials announced last week.

And many are unprepared for the increasingly hazardous conditions awaiting in the water, Linkletter said.

On Tuesday alone -- at the peak of Southern California's current heat wave -- county lifeguards performed nearly 200 ocean rescues.

"We've had rescues all over the place," Linkletter said.

For breaking California news, follow @JosephSerna.

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