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Dennis’ Local Almanac


Mega swell hits Pacific Coast

Here’s hoping that all this madness puts the brakes on a little bit in 2024. At this point that’s a pretty tall order.

We are finally seeing the effects of a strong El Niño. For starters, a powerful winter swell is slamming into the entire Pacific West Coast and has been for the past several days – thanks to a massive Pacific cyclone with a central pressure as low as 28.40 – with winds up to 60 mph over a large area.

This swell is our state’s strongest since the winter of 2015-16 when the last one of this magnitude occurred. It’s been a long time since a low pressure this strong has been as far south as 35 degrees North latitude. It’s nearly a thousand miles displaced from its normal track during a non-El Niño winter.

On Sunday there was a secondary system out there that was following the same track as the current monster. This new system is almost as strong as its predecessor, and there’s a third cyclone pulling its act together way out by the Japanese east coast. On the latest satellite images, it almost looks like ducks lined up in a shooting gallery. These systems are just that; not atmospheric rivers (A.R.s) like some are calling every cyclone that occurs.

It almost seems like it’s in vogue to call all these “rainmakers rivers.” They’re running that term into the ground! For starters A.R.s – we’ll call them – do not produce these huge waves that occur because of strong winds at the surface, creating a large fetch. The winds that are associated with the rivers are all in the upper atmosphere, a mile or more above the Earth’s surface.

The strong cyclones can affect weather over a vast area while these rivers are only around 300 miles wide. These strong lows can affect the entire Pacific Coast. With an A.R., it can be dumping truckloads of rain in L.A. while places like Big Sur or Monterey will be high and dry.

This mega swell involved the entire Pacific West Coast – all the way from Vancouver British Columbia to the west coast of the Baja Peninsula – where all the premier big wave spots were absolutely firing on all cylinders. There are a couple of such spots in Oregon that reported consistent sets up to 25 feet, like in Short Sand Beach with glassy to offshore conditions. There’s a big wave spot outside of Coos Bay, Oregon that only breaks a couple of times a decade and it was feathering a mile offshore at 20-25 ft.

Waves at Point Arena in Northern California were so big and consistent that a wave runner was required just to get into them. With so much water moving around, it looked like “Victory at Sea.” Mavericks at Half Moon Bay was reporting sets well over 50 ft., so it was next to impossible to paddle into sets that huge. Downcoast near Pebble Beach at Ghost Trees there were sets of 35 ft. or bigger. That spot is downright scary with unpredictable currents and ill-placed rocks all over the place.

The Queen of the Coast, Rincon, had sets up to 12-15 ft. at Indicators with some rides as much as a quarter-mile long. In South Bay, Redondo Breakwater reported sets up to 15 ft. They had to build big berms in Seal Beach along the entire beachfront as streets along that stretch were flooded big time (sink hole!). Sets up to 10 ft. at Bombarded Reefs here in town and Todos Santos off the Mexifornia border had sets up to 15 ft. Cortes Bank, about 100 miles west of the border, had sets up to 50 ft. Had enough?

Happy New Year!

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