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King tides and storms combine to form dangerous sneaker waves at Oregon coast

The Oregon Department of Parks and Recreation is warning of sneaker waves over the next few days as the coast experiences high tides.
Jim Kerns
The Oregon Department of Parks and Recreation is warning of sneaker waves over the next few days as the coast experiences high tides.

The state is warning beachgoers to beware of sneaker waves this weekend, as a king tide and a storm combine to whip-up the waters.

King tides are natural and predictable events that happen when the orbits of the sun and moon combine with the alignment of the Earth, to create the highest tides of the year.

While king tides can increase erosion, they’re not usually a problem. But weather watchers who go to Oregon’s beaches to watch storms, need to be aware that every now and then a larger than normal wave will wash up.

“Sneaker waves can surge up the beach, traveling much further inland than normal waves,” said Robert Smith with the Oregon Department of Parks and Recreation. “The common adage to ‘never turn your back to the ocean’ is even more important at this time.”

He said beachgoers should observe closures and barricades, stay off the sand and watch the waves from an elevated location.

Sneaker waves can be particularly dangerous to anyone who tries to get a better view by standing on a driftwood log. The water can suddenly float the log, which can then roll in the surf, knocking the spectator off and create a crushing threat.

Retired Cannon Beach nurse Melodie Chenevert said when king tides combine with a storm, it can be both exhilarating and deadly, “It’s very exciting because the beach just totally disappears and the water is washing up and over and into the parking lot."

"They’re kind of warning people to keep kind of a high perch. Don’t be standing on the rocks, don’t be standing on the logs and know where’s the fastest path back and out.”

Cannon Beach Mayor Sam Steidel said people should not underestimate the ocean. “The sneaker wave is dangerous, and you do not know it’s coming. I personally have seen 40-foot logs tossed around like toothpicks," he said.

"So always, if you’re walking on the beach, if you’re just sitting watching the beach, keep an eye on the water.”

The state’s sneaker wave warning runs Nov. 15-17, from Dec. 13-15 and from Jan. 11-13th.

Copyright 2020 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Kristian Foden-Vencil is a veteran journalist/producer working for Oregon Public Broadcasting. He started as a cub reporter for newspapers in London, England in 1988. Then in 1991 he moved to Oregon and started freelancing. His work has appeared in publications as varied as The Oregonian, the BBC, the Salem Statesman Journal, Willamette Week, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, NPR and the Voice of America. Kristian has won awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists and the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors. He was embedded with the Oregon National Guard in Iraq in 2004 and now specializes in business, law, health and politics.