Photo on the left is an image of a King Tide, photo on the right is an image of a High Surf Event.
King Tides, Minus Tides, Winter Storms and High Surf Warnings - What Does All This Weather Terminology Mean for Oregon Coast Visitors?
Oregon’s Adventure Coast is known for its unpredictableness, especially during the late fall and winter months. Some days the sea is remarkably calm, while other days result in the ocean wildly churning with enormous swells and massive waves. As we head into the winter, we begin to hear more about winter weather events like King Tides, winter storms, high surf warnings, minus times and more.
With so much weather terminology, it’s natural for folks to be confused about when to visit and what to expect. The truth is, each of these weather events possess a unique natural beauty. In this post, we’ll break down these weather events - and what they could mean for Oregon Coast visitors.
What Are King Tides? King Tides are winter’s highest tide sequences on the Oregon Coast, and they occur when the Earth, moon, and sun are aligned to produce the greatest tidal effects of the year. King Tides bring unusually high water levels, and they can cause local tidal flooding. Some travel to the Oregon Coast during King Tides in hopes of seeing a spectacular winter storm, while others come as “citizen scientists” to photograph and document the effects of the high tides for the Oregon King Tides Project . The projected dates for the 2023-2024 King Tides are:
What Should Oregon Coast Visitors Expect to Experience During King Tides? As we mentioned previously, conditions along the Oregon Coast are ever-changing during the winter, so we cannot always predict what visitors will experience. However, visitors often see some of the following phenomena during King Tides:
Significant fluctuations in tide levels, with ocean waters reaching farther inland on the beaches than is typical. Sections of the beaches typically visible even during regular high tides may become entirely submerged. While these tides are spectacular to see (from a safe distance), they sometimes splash over sea walls and cause flooding and other damage.
Minus Tides, which represent the complete opposite of extreme high tides, consistently occur alongside King Tides. During these minus-tide intervals, the gravitational pull, influenced by lunar effects, causes the tides to recede significantly, revealing portions of the shoreline typically underwater during less intense tidal phases.
What visitors will not necessarily see are the big wave crashes associated with winter storm watching (see below). Very rarely do King Tides and High Surf events occur simultaneously.
What is Winter Storm Watching? Winter Storm Watching on Oregon’s Adventure Coast can be an awe-inspiring experience that shows off the best of Mother Nature’s mighty forces. During the months of November through March, winter storms off the Pacific coast can lead to dramatic wave crashes reaching up to 300 feet high. It’s no surprise that winter storm watching draws photographers and visitors to Oregon’s Adventure Coast—it’s truly a breathtaking sight.
Do King Tides Make Winter Storm Watching Even More Spectacular? Not necessarily. It’s a common misconception that King Tides automatically means there will be epic waves from winter storms that roll in from the Pacific. But there is no guarantee a winter storm will coincide with a King Tide. While it is always amazing to be on the coast during a King Tide or any other time, we want to ensure our visitors are not disappointed that there may not be storm watching opportunities simultaneously. However, on the rare occasion, this does happen - it’s truly a sight to behold!
Where Can I Watch Winter Storms? Shore Acres State Park, located 12 miles from downtown Coos Bay, is one of the best storm watching spots on the Oregon Coast. Perched on top of an 80 foot cliff, this location allows for a safer distance above the waves while enjoying fantastic views. The park also has a storm watching hut where visitors can view winter storms.
What’s a “High Surf” Warning? The National Weather Service (NWS) will send a High Surf warning when a weather system off the coast is likely to come ashore and bring flooding, dangerous surf, and high winds. These conditions are usually optimal for winter storm watching, when Pacific storms cause ocean swells of 16 to 35 feet or higher, which often lead to a magnificent show as they crash into the immoveable and rugged cliffs of our coastline.
When Should I Plan a Trip to See a Winter Storm? Unfortunately, nature does not plan that far ahead, and we only receive a few days’ notice from the NWS when a winter storm and high surf are imminent. We will post on our Facebook page anytime we have a High Surf Advisory or Warning. If they coincide with a King Tide, we’ll note that too!
Are King Tides and Winter Storm Watching Dangerous? As thrilling as these coastal winter weather events can be, there can be certain dangers that require attention. However, with some good preparation and a dash of caution, you can experience these thrilling spectacles safely. Here are some important tips to follow:
Stay at a Distance: As alluring as the waves might be, maintain a safe distance. Sneaker waves—unexpected waves that are far larger and more powerful than others—can sweep you off your feet with deadly consequences. A general rule is to stay at least 100 feet away from the water’s edge and NEVER TURN YOUR BACK ON THE OCEAN. If you want to pose for photos and/or a selfie, do it from a safe distance!
Avoid Walking on Logs, Jetties, and Cliff Edges. Logs along the beach can become dangerous objects quickly during a sneaker wave. Jetties and cliff edges can also be slippery and unstable during stormy weather. A sudden large wave or gust of wind could lead to a fall. Stick to designated viewpoints and trails.
There is an adventure for everyone on Oregon’s Adventure Coast. Learn more about vacation ideas on our site, or contact us for help planning your next trip or family getaway. Click here for directions and other important travel tips, or contact one of our friendly volunteers at the Coos Bay Visitor Information Center or North Bend Visitor Information Center on Oregon’s Adventure Coast and start planning your trip today!