Tips for Spotting A Sneaker Wave - in Oregon or Any Other Beach
(Oregon Coast) – Those winter storms along the Oregon coast are a big attraction, and for good reason. But those massive waves present plenty of danger issues along the beaches. (Above: bad sneaker wave action at Moolack Beach, Newport).
Yet it doesn't take big storms to create wonton ocean surges. Sneaker waves can happen even in somewhat calm conditions.
Tom Horning, a geologist living in Seaside, said these surges will threaten anyone who strays too close to the ocean under the wrong circumstances.
What’s surprising is that there are conditions to look out for when a sneaker wave may be coming, but you have to be paying close attention to the tide.
It's not a guarantee – only a helpful guideline. There's really no defense better than keeping an eye on the ocean. But in doing so, you may get a heads up ahead of time, instead of seeing the monstrous thing come raging your way.
“The clue that a sneaker wave is coming is a large withdrawal of the ocean after a period of smaller waves,” Horning said. “The withdrawal represents a magnified trough preceding a magnified peak - a big wave - that is following. If the ocean pulls out an abnormal distance, keep an eye on it and plan your escape route - if you are in an area that can be flooded by the coming big surge.”
Horning said it’s best to watch the ocean for 10 to 20 minutes to get an idea of whether or not sneaker waves are likely. But if in doubt, simply stay away from the beach – period. If you see waves reaching up close to cliffs or foredunes, stay off it and watch the beach from above.
“Another trick to estimating if a site is safe is to stay on dry ground, as that site should not get swamped by waves,” Horning said. “But this only works if the weather is dry. If it has been raining, you have to study the site to see if it has foam or bits of debris from waves. You should also keep in mind when the tide will peak. A site can be dry early in the tidal cycle, but can be hit by waves as the tide rises. Caution and a close eye on the ocean is needed.
Horning said sneaker waves are a likelihood on low-lying beaches or rocky ledges during much of the winter. So it’s best to stay clear of these kinds of beaches during these conditions – it's that simple.
“Sneaker waves sneak up on you and can carry away the unprepared,” Horning said. “Sneaker waves are formed by at least two wave trains that are moving at slightly different speeds and that are out of phase. As a result, they produce a complex wave train that can double the heights of the waves every few minutes, with smaller waves happening in between.”
See the video: Anatomy of a Sneaker Wave, Time Lapse
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