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When the Oregon Coast Becomes Still 'Like A Pond'

Published 06/21/22 at 5:35 AM PST
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

When the Oregon Coast Becomes Still 'Like A Pond'

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(Oregon Coast) – Every once in awhile it happens, but not very often. Every few summers or so, and probably only for a day or two. It's almost an exceptional rarity on the Oregon coast. (Above: Rodea Point during this unusual stillness. All photos Oregon Coast Beach Connection)

Even so, Oregon Coast Beach Connection has spotted it on more than one occasion: the ocean here can become so calm it's like a lake.

There was a time in the winter of '07 for example. February of all times. Then again, weather can do remarkable things in February around here, like the winds practically grind to a halt, the sun feels more like 80 degrees than 60, and winter takes a definite holiday. That's a whole other science story: the mini-spring of February.

If such calm waves happen here, it's usually summer. It's a wild sight to behold, and often it goes fairly unnoticed. People just aren't used to the coast in many ways, certainly familiar enough with it to pick up on something this strange.

Rodea Point normally looks like this, even in fairly calm weather

What's it like? No major breakers. No large waves crashing in on the sand. Just a strange kind of tranquil, really laidback lapping. In fact, it's been described as like a “lake” out there, and some locals on the coast have said the waves are so small and insignificant that at times it's like a “pond.”

This doesn't mean you shouldn't look out for sneaker waves or not keep safety in mind, but you're going to find the Pacific Ocean quite quiet. Favorite sandy spots like Cannon Beach, Lincoln City, Seaside, or other locales like below Humbug Mountain, Bandon or even Coos Bay's Shore Acres will show this dramatically. If it's super mellow, it'll stand out at rocky areas like the latter example, or Depoe Bay or Yachats.

In fact, given that whole Chetco effect on the southern Oregon coast, where California-like warm weather can take over places like Brookings or Gold Beach, it may happen there just a little more often.

Rodea Point back then

There was a time in August of 2012 that Oregon Coast Beach Connection also documented it. Case in point: these shots at top and above of Rodea Point near Depoe Bay. This place is almost always raucous and slightly chaotic, no matter how calm the weather. Yet even here, ocean conditions were so mellow that wave action simply was not being kicked up.

Interestingly enough, however, it's not local winds that affect the ocean waves but those far out at sea. Regional weather experts and beach naturalists say it's weather hundreds of miles away that dictates the size of waves around here – and there was nothing going on out there.

“It's just a lack of wind,” said Keith Chandler, manager of Seaside Aquarium in 2012. “Storms cause waves, and there's just not anything happening out there.”

Steve Pierce, a meteorologist who later joined KOIN TV, told Oregon Coast Beach Connection:

Bob Creek near Yachats

“From a weather perspective, the winds have mostly been offshore (easterly) lately and that may help to 'calm' the incoming waves,” Pierce said. “Additionally, it is summer and there is a big ridge of pressure off the coast. In other words, no storms to 'kick up' the waves.”

Chandler added this area is often affected by wind conditions as far away as the Gulf of Alaska.

Lincoln City in these conditions

Jim Todd, astronomy and science expert at Portland's OMSI, also talked to OCBC a bit about the dynamics of wind on the ocean.

“A lot of sloshing goes on when 20 mile per hour winds and higher kick up over the mid-Atlantic and Pacific,” Todd said. “Winds do subside: El Nina and La Nina events are all wind connected and when one starts it's because wind direction and speed over the ocean has changed. So when there are periods of sustained calm winds the seas should be calmer.”

Other locals, like the then-owner of Trollers Lodge in Depoe Bay, said: “It was incredibly calm - did look like a big pond,” Peg Leoni said.

These kinds of conditions make for incredible whale watching, as whales disappear beneath large wave systems. But if these seas are calm and glassy, it'll make spotting them much easier.

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