Safe storm watching at the coast

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Dec 14, 2021

We get it. There’s something magnetic about the churning ocean during a winter storm. Those big waves lure you ever closer, mesmerizing you with their absolute power. But that power is also sobering, and indiscriminate in its destruction.

Case in point: one cubic yard of salt water weighs nearly a ton, and waves travel 15, 20, maybe 25 mph. They exert a tremendous amount of force that will easily knock even the sturdiest of folks to the ground, leaving them at the mercy of the storm.

We share this not to deter you from visiting the coast when there's a King Tide or winter storm forecasted, but to remind you to be smarter than the high seas. Here are three tips for safe storm chasing on the coast, and our top picks on where to watch.

  1. Pick your spot. Look for locations well above the action and away from cliff edges. Just because the parking lot may be relatively safe, the nearby trails may not be.

This hopefully goes without saying, but jetties are not safe place to watch a storm. That Instagram shot is really not worth an encounter with high waves + sharp, barnacle-covered rocks.

Some of our favorite spots for storm watching include:

  1. Mind those fences. And any cones, caution tape or other barricades, for that matter. Park rangers carefully plan trails and install fences and barricades to protect visitors from crumbling cliff edges, unstable hillsides, and dangerous trail hazards. Crossing barricades and venturing near cliff edges puts you in danger of slipping and falling down cliffs, even in the best of weather. The dramatic vistas of the Oregon Coast are being sculpted in real time by the very storms we go to watch. The constant pounding of the sea undermines the sand and mudstone cliffs. Taking one step closer to the edge may be all that is needed to crumble a bluff.
  1. Watch your step while exploring post-storm. Pro-tip: the best time to explore the beach is just after a storm, when the waves have washed up new ocean treasures. It’s also cool to see how the beach has changed after a storm has re-sculpted the sand. But don’t be fooled by the calm seas. Driftwood piles are always unsteady and will be even more so; trails you used yesterday may be washed out or degraded.

Now you’re ready to go chase those storms. You can also check out our beach safety page for general tips to follow any time you're visiting the coast. 


Photograph is a derivative of “Shore Acres State Park Beach” by S. Woodman under the CC license by Oregon King Tides Project