Though we are fast approaching Spring here on the central Oregon coast, it is important to keep in mind some of the potentially dangerous conditions the sea can throw our way. While more prominent in the winter months, wild wind and dangerous waves can occur throughout the year. Here are a few things to be wary of when planning your next trip to the beach: 

Waves grow, crest, and break along the edge of the shore. In the winter and spring, storms and wind can drive two waves shoreward at the same time, often crashing over ledges, as shown here. Yachats, November 2020, E. Bjornsgard

Sneaker Waves:  

As children, many of us who grew up near the ocean were told, “Never turn your back on the ocean.” Apt advice, especially when waves become larger and stronger during this time of the year. When two or more waves join together and move in the same direction, the overlapping waves can create constructive interference, a physics phenomenon, which causes them to be larger and faster than either would be apart. They also can run farther up the beach, sometimes all the way to the dune line or rocky cliffs. In this situation, make sure to stay off the beach and observe the waves from a safe distance, such as from the top of a dune or nearby high ground. 

Steep, Carved Dunes: 

During winter storms, it is often comforting to stay indoors, listening to the sounds of the wind and rain from the safety of your living room. These storms have a huge effect on our sandy shores, moving great amounts of sand in hours or days. Venturing out onto the beach after storms can be rewarding, as beachcombers can find many treasures washed up. However, getting down onto the beach can be a challenge when the winding dunes have been carved into a steep drop-off. Over the next few months, these cliffs will get worn back down to the sloping dunes we all enjoy in the summer, and the cycle will repeat itself once more. Don’t let this discourage you from vising, just be aware of the additional challenge of getting down to the beach. 

Strong waves can easily topple large logs and branches in the surf, and can set them precariously on the shore. Seal Rock, November 2020, E. Bjornsgard

Driftwood on the Beach: 

 While smaller pieces are often treasured by beach visitors, and can be used in a variety of craft projects, larger driftwood can be incredibly unstable, and prone to rolling. If you see driftwood in the surf, avoid going near it, as the power of the waves are more than capable of moving even large logs with little effort. If you see driftwood on the shore, especially near the dune line, avoid putting weight on it if possible, as the shifting sands beneath it can cause it to roll.  

Slippery Rocks and Sea Foam:  

One of the hallmark characteristics of wild ocean storms is the excessive amount of sea foam that is produced. Sea foam, also sometimes referred to as diatomaceous ooze, is primarily made of the silica shells of microscopic organisms called diatoms, which are whipped in the surf and create fine bubbles. While not outright dangerous, areas with large buildup can hide the ground beneath it, potentially obscuring dangerous driftwood or potholes from view. When in doubt, it is best to pick a different path! 

Weather and Tides: 

Watching the Sun set AND the waves crash? The perfect evening. Otter Crest Loop, January 2021. E. Bjornsgard

Finally, when planning a trip to the beach, it is always important to check both the upcoming weather and the tides. Some of our local beaches are absolutely stunning at a mid-to-low tide, but are completely covered and inaccessible at high tide. The tides are exacerbated in high wind situations and poor weather conditions. Key warnings to keep an eye out for are Small Craft Advisory and especially Gale Wind Warning. These two warnings will indicate that the waves may grow beyond their predicted heights, and might prompt a backup plan. When the beach is inaccessible, try wave watching from several locations along the Lincoln county coast, including Depoe Bay, Otter Crest Loop, and Yachats. 

However you enjoy our beautiful coastline, remember that safety is always an important consideration. We live in a beautiful area, just waiting to be explored!