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An examination of rip current fatalities in the United States


This study analyzes fatalities caused by rip currents in the conterminous United States for the period 1994–2007. Results include the frequency of fatalities from rip currents, their cause, and their unique spatial distributions. An analysis of historical hazard event data illustrate that, on average, 35 people reportedly die from rip currents each year in the United States. Also, similar to other hazard events where unique differences in gender vulnerability have been found, men are over six times more likely to fall victim to a deadly rip current than females. Rip current fatalities are most common in the southeastern United States, with a nonuniform spatial distribution along other Atlantic, Pacific, and Great Lakes coastlines. Physical vulnerabilities are suggested as the primary cause for the unique fatality distribution found. Temporally, summer season weekends are shown to have the more fatalities than any other time of the year. A classification scheme was developed to categorize synoptic-scale weather conditions present during deadly rip current events. More than 70% of all rip current fatalities are associated with onshore winds. Specifically, a rip current fatality is most likely when a surface high pressure system creates these onshore winds. The quality of the fatality reporting database available for researchers is also assessed.

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  1. Verified in discussions with Mr. Dave Guenther. See Mr. Guenther’s informal manuscript online at


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The authors would like to thank the input from two anonymous reviewers that helped revise the initial form of this manuscript. The authors would also like to extend a special thanks to Mr. Dave Guenther (National Weather Service, Marquette, MI) for his Great Lakes rip current database and comments on an initial draft of this paper.

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Correspondence to Victor A. Gensini.

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Gensini, V.A., Ashley, W.S. An examination of rip current fatalities in the United States. Nat Hazards 54, 159–175 (2010).

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  • Rip currents
  • Coastal hazards
  • Fatality distributions
  • Drownings