By Hector Gonzalez
February 18, 2015 -- Record-shattering heat waves, riptide-causing erosion and warmer ocean temperatures kept lifeguards very busy last year at Santa Monica’s beaches, where the number of rescues nearly doubled from the year before, officials said.
Across Los Angeles County beaches, lifeguards performed a record 15,851 ocean rescues last year, breaking the previous record of 14,096 set in 1997, according to the Los Angeles County Fire Department’s Lifeguard Division.
“This is the largest number of rescues in the history of our organization,” division officials said in a news release.
In Santa Monica, lifeguards made 2,355 ocean rescues last year, compared to 1,614 in 2013.
Officials said the drought and record-setting heat inland sent droves of people to the county’s beaches last year. More than 73.8 million people visited the county’s beaches last year, the second-highest estimated beach attendance ever, according to the county Fire Department.
Meanwhile, California experienced the warmest year on record in 2014.
“The lack of rain and extended periods of unseasonably warm weather brought an increase of activity to L.A. County beaches,” said Acting Chief Lifeguard Steve Moseley.
In August and again in September, huge waves from tropical storms created holes and erosion along the coast, resulting in riptides and a big spike in the number of rescues, officials said.
Normally, local beaches experience rip currents during the winter, lifeguards said.
Several people drowned at L.A. County beaches last year, including a 32-year-old lifeguard who died in July while trying to rescue a swimmer in New Port Beach.
Swells as high as 12 feet claimed the life of lifeguard Ben Carlson, but the swimmer he went after survived.
“The combination of consistent surf and inshore holes caused rip currents to form more frequently,” Moseley said.
Last April, a 19-year-old Lakewood man died when he was caught in rip currents off Sunset Beach in Huntington Beach. Before Damian Frierson Jr. drowned, lifeguards had warned him to stay out of the ocean because of the riptide danger, published reports said.
A third factor that increased beach crowds last year -- and ocean rescues-- was the “unseasonably warm” ocean temperatures, officials said.
“Ocean temperatures rarely fell below 60 degrees in the winter months, and hovered near 70 degrees and above from early spring through November,” said Moseley.
Although it was a busy year, Moseley said county lifeguards rose to the challenge.
“This milestone is one that we can proudly celebrate today and positively reflect upon in the years to come,” said Moseley. “I would like to commend the men and women of the Lifeguard Division for their hard work and service to the public.”