Cornelia Dean in the New York Times:
When people think about natural hazards, they usually think about tornadoes or hurricanes or earthquakes. But there is another natural hazard that takes more lives in an average year in the United States than any of those – rip currents.
Each year in American waters, rip currents pull about 100 panicked swimmers to their deaths. According to the United States Lifesaving Association, lifeguards pull out at least 70,000 Americans from the surf each year, 80 percent from rip currents.
Because these drownings and near drownings occur one by one, year-round, up and down the coasts, few people recognize rip currents as a major hazard. Only in recent years have meteorologists and coastal geologists begun to measure rip currents precisely in the field and model them in detail in laboratory wave tanks.