Waves crash along the sea stacks, as seen from above the beach at Seal Rock. November 15, 2020

During the winter months on the Lincoln County coast, there are some magnificent storms that drive incredible waves toward shore. These can happen at any height of the tide, but there are certain times of the year when we see “King Tides,” the highest of the high tides. These extreme tidal events can result in some amazing waves and seascapes.

Tidal cycles are always happening and are caused primarily by the gravitational pull of the Sun and the Moon. The Sun and Moon cause the water of the Earth to bulge on opposite sides, and as the Earth rotates, the local water levels rise and fall. Certain factors, including location, lunar cycle, and coastline shape can affect the local height of the tides. The term King Tides is not necessarily a scientific term but is used to describe when the high tides are the highest of the year.

These King Tides can be invaluable to show what areas of our coastline may be vulnerable to more frequent flooding in the future. In order to better understand this phenomenon, I reached out to the Oregon King Tides Photo Project, that seeks to harness the power of citizen science to track the extent of the King Tides’ reach each year. According to their website,
“The Oregon King Tides Project is co-coordinated by the Oregon Coastal Management Program and the CoastWatch program of the Oregon Shores Conservation Coalition.”

King Tides push waves well above their usual intertidal range. Seal Rock. November 15, 2020.

I recently corresponded with Meg Reed, the Coastal Shores Specialist of the Oregon Coastal Management Program. I was curious to learn more about what monitoring King Tides might tell us in a world where we see rising sea levels. She responded, “The King Tides Photo Project offers a unique opportunity to see change through time while giving a better understanding of what sea-level rise might look like in our own backyard.” She offered the perspective that “a picture is worth 1,000 words, and King Tides photos highlight how increased storm surge may impact familiar and recognizable places in our communities.” While we can see extreme natural disasters on the news, or hear about possible future events, these photographs offer real time, local effects of extreme wave surge.

Reed also offered some tips for staying safe, while getting out to observe the waves. She wrote, “It is important to first check the tides and weather conditions before heading out. We provide tide prediction information on our website, or it can be found on NOAA’s tides prediction website. Storms, wind, and rain can also contribute to water level and wave action. The King Tides are best viewed from above the beach, safely away from the water, waves, and cliffs!” A few links have been added to the end of this article for additional beach safety tips.

Black Oystercatchers staying well above the splash zone. Seal Rock. November 15, 2020

While the 2020-2021 King Tides season has come to a close, high tides still come and go each day. These tips are important to keep in mind any time you visit the beach. If you are interested in observing the King Tides next year, the Oregon King Tides project has listed the 2021-2022 season as November 5-7, 2021, December 3-5, 2021, and January 1-3, 2022. More information can be found on their website.

Beach Safety Links:

Visit the Oregon Coast

Oregon State Parks

Coastal Stagecoach: Winter Warnings