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The King Tides

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By Polly Peterson

In January of this year, we drove out to the coast for the day. It was the weekend for King Tides. But we didn’t know that.


Sometimes we do this to run out supplies we pick up in the valley, check on repairs at one of the houses, meet for lunch with Mitch and Leona — the couple who run the cleaning business we partner with, and always, always to take a walk on the beach with Penny our dog — who loves it so much more than almost anything. 

This day we were visiting with a homeowner whose house is right on the beach at Seal Rock, a little down a ways from the homes we manage. Gorgeous location. Right on the ocean. Looking out a window, I commented on how high up the water seemed. 

“Yeah, because of the King Tide,” the homeowner said.

“The King Tide?” I asked.

“Isn’t that why you are here, to see the King Tide?”

I had never heard of the term before. I realized that after living in Oregon most of my life and going to the coast many, many times, there are still wonderful things to learn about it.

King Tide was one of those things. 

What is a King Tide? 

Scientists say a “king tide”—caused by gravitational pull when the moon draws close to the Earth and aligns with the sun—is part of the lunar cycle. Under normal conditions, a king tide can swell the near-shore ocean by a couple of inches before weakening over several days.

The east coast feels the impact of King Tides more than those here on the Pacifc, mainly because of the greater ocean depths right off our coast. 

That weekend, the King Tide was January 10-12, Friday through Sunday — with the full moon landing on January 10th. The sun, moon and Earth lined up for a King Tide, causing the tide to swell an additional few feet.

Perigean Spring Tide = King Tide

If you are at the coast during a King Tide, you can participate in the King Tide Project — upload pictures to this collection of photographs with pictures of the tide over the last decade. Upload them here and tag your location. 

On the east coast king tides occur mainly in the fall. I was out on the Pacific coast in January. Another one happened in February

Any time you are walking on the beach, be extra careful of sneaker waves — a larger than normal surge in the wave pattern. But be especially vigilant when there is a King Tide. Sneaker Waves are unpredictable and can be dangerous, knocking you down or off rocks right near the water, and lifting unsecured logs you are standing on, potentially pining you underneath when the water recedes. 

There is danger and beauty at the coast, both just ask you to be aware. 

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