Rip Currents

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Local, state and federal officials are on a crusade to warn beachgoers about the perils of rip currents.

Timed to coincide with the upcoming Memorial Day weekend, the goal is to promote tools including signs, brochures and Web sites that help swimmers learn about the currents before they even dip their toes in the ocean.

Rips, often incorrectly called undertows, are natural events that form when water rushes back out to sea in a narrow path. The dangerous currents, generally less than 25 feet wide and roughly 100 to 200 feet long, often form around jetties, piers and breaks in near-shore sandbars.

While they generally don't pull people under, rips become killers when swimmers panic as they're carried out to sea.

According to the U.S. Lifesaving Association, at least 100 people die annually from rip currents.