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Atmospheric Surprises at the Tideline on Oregon and Washington Coast

Published 06/27/21 at 7:05 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Atmospheric Surprises at the Tideline on Oregon and Washington Coast

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(Oceanside, Oregon) – When it comes to weather, the Oregon coast and Washington coast are two of the most dynamic environments on the Earth, certainly the Pacific Northwest. There's a lot going on here when you simply step out on the sands – including a few surprises. (Above: Rockaway Beach)

One major aspect that can directly affect you is how temperatures can change just between the tideline and vegetation line, or certainly the between the town and the ocean.

Most of the time in summer, it operates how you think it would, and how you're used to. Walk the streets of maybe Cannon Beach, Port Orford or maybe Long Beach and it's warmer and there's some wind blockage, but head to the tideline and you start getting smacked by winds and cooler temps. On those rare occasions when it gets into the 80s or even 90s, being next to the ocean – often just a few hundred feet – can put you in the midst of cooling winds and a ten-degree or more temp drop.

Common sense says getting closer to the waves will chill you down.

However, there are conditions when almost the opposite is true.

If there's little to no wind and it's sunny, you may well encounter any particular Oregon coast or Washington coast beach being suddenly much warmer the closer you get to the water line. The key to this is the lack of wind, although some late-season summer days and freak heatwaves get warmer no matter what.

The reason for this is that the sea and the sands reflect the sun back on you, heating things up considerably. A lack of wind knocks out that usual cooling mechanism along the sands, letting the rays coming back off the ocean really do their work.

This is also the time you're really going to need sunscreen because that reflection from the ocean is a lot more brutal than you think. You can get pretty burned in less than an hour, even if the general temperatures aren't that high. Even in the 60s or 50s, that sun is cooking your skin under such conditions.

So if you're bouncing around the beach at places like Nesika, Ocean Shores or Oceanside and you feel warmer at the tideline, that's the signal for skin danger.

This dynamic is even more amazing in usually-chilly February, when winter can at times dissipate and the beaches can be at their most heated until summertime. Most years, February pulls this delightful little surprise where it gets warmer than inland, sometimes near the 60s. Under these conditions, the town streets can be in the 40s or 50s, but if there's no wind and the sun is just right, the beaches feel more like the 60s – even the 70s.

Even then you really have to watch the sunscreen.

Obviously, in winter or stormier days that tideline can be a monster of unpleasantness. But if you're close to a headland or large outcropping that can block the wind nicely. Places like the point north of Copalis, Washington, Oceanside's Maxwell Point, around Bandon's Face Rock, Port Orford Heads State Park, or Tillamook Head between Cannon Beach and Seaside can provide some nifty protection from the winds, depending on direction. Coos Bay's Sunset Bay is often good from either direction.

All this can come in handy during windier (but sunny) summer days when you want to stretch out and grab a tan, but the swift air is not cooperating. Find a beach with some major outcropping that blocks that.

Again, use your sunscreen copiously in this case.

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