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King Tides: What's Different on Oregon / Washington Coast, Photos Needed

Published 10/21/21 at 6:26 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

King Tides: What's Different on Oregon / Washington Coast, Photos Needed

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(Manzanita, Oregon) – Once again, king tides are set to descend on the Oregon and Washington coast, and in both states there is a need for photographers to hit the beaches on these enormous, highest tides of the year and do some snapping of pics. Scientists around the world need these – and shots of normal tides of the same area – for the purpose of comparison. Sea level rise is a real threat in the coming decades and the Pacific Northwest coastline is already seeing it, so experts need to compare what these places normally look like and what happens to them at king tides. (Above: Westport, courtesy Washington King Tides / Shian Klassen)

King tides happen on the Oregon and Washington coasts on November 5 – 7, while inlet areas of Washington have them offset by a day.

This year, there are some different things going on: La Nina may exaggerate the tidal events, safety is a much bigger concern, Washington is pushing its king tides project more into the public eye, and there's a tiny controversy about the term "king tides."

Washington's King Tides Project is a partnership between Washington Sea Grant and Washington Department of Ecology. There, you are asked to snap pictures of the highest tides of that day, everywhere from Long Beach to La Push, and into the inland seas as well.

Post king tides photos to the free app called MyCoast under king tides: https://mycoast.org/wa. This is for Washington coast pics only.

For the Oregon coast, organizers need the same thing: photos of the massive king tides. Post photos and reports to https://www.oregonkingtides.net/.

Look for some mammoth tidal action this time around – although it's not always guaranteed. This year is a La Nina year, which typically brings more storm action to the coastline. Last year's king tides saw the events coincide with big storm surges, which resulted in enormous inundation of many places and more than 30 feet of ocean waves at times.

Bridget Trosin with Washington Sea Grant, who oversees the Washington king tides project, is keeping a close eye on this one because of a greater possibility of flooding. She said during La Nina years there are typically more storms happening just as a king tide occurs.

La Nina Year

Tyler Kranz with the National Weather Service (NWS) in Portland said there is no direct correlation between La Nina and the tides, but those conditions can increase the frequency of storms systems, and thus increase wave height.

"If a storm were to occur at the same time as a king tide, then the storm surge could be high enough to warrant concerns related to coastal flooding/high surf conditions/beach erosion," he said. "If a high-end storm system is pushing inland or if one is out to sea but generating a large swell for our coastal waters at the same exact time as a king tide, then the threat for coastal flooding and beach erosion would increase significantly."

How much could a La Nina storm exaggerate wave height? Kranz said that's impossible to forecast ahead of time as it depends on a myriad of factors, and usually that's only firmed up after the fact.

Some places will get higher wave action than others. For example Westport, Washington will see ten-foot tides over the three days, while just down the coast, Ilwaco will get nine-foot high tides. However, storm surges could add another ten feet or more to those numbers and cause flooding.

Safety is a big concern this year, especially given last year's higher numbers of participants and how chaotic wave action turned out to be.

Jesse Jones, one of the coordinators with Oregon King Tides Project, said they're urging caution much more adamantly.

" ‘Stay off the beach' is a message even more than ‘Take photos from a distance,' " she said. "How can we ask people to come to the beach during these tides when they are so dangerous? It's a tricky one. The public needs to know about tides in general."

Impact

King tide inundation at Coquille Point, south coast, courtesy Rick Poecker

Meg Reed, with Oregon Coastal Management Program, is another head of Oregon's king tides project. She said each season seems to bring a bigger wallop.

"I have noticed observationally that the last few seasons of king tides have been bigger and more impactful than previous years," she said. "However, our program has not done any quantitative analysis to see how the heights of the king tides have changed from year to year since we started gathering photographs."

Participation has grown considerably over the decade, Reed said. It more than doubled between the 2018-19 season and the 2019-20 season.

"I observed that newcomers to the king tides project were more plentiful last season because it was still an activity that people could do safely during COVID," Reed said.

Name Controversy

The term "king tides" has a bit of a divide between the public sector and the scientific community.

According to Kranz: "By the way, we no longer use the term ‘king tide.' Instead, we use the term "perigean spring tide.' " This is because these are high tides affected by the moon's orbit.

Yet the King Tides community – which coined the term in Australia decades ago – has no plans to change it.

"King Tides have always been the same as ‘perigean spring tides,' " Reed said. "That is the scientific term for these events but it is not very user friendly, which is why the term ‘king tides' was adopted."

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King tides at Seaside, courtesy Seaside Aquarium

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