Sneaker wave warning issued for Sonoma Coast days after girl, 4, drowns at Point Reyes
Offshore storm systems are leading to rougher surf along the Sonoma Coast and to the south, prompting the National Weather Service to warn visitors of dangerous sneaker waves and powerful rip currents.
“Generally speaking, this time of year, we start to see stronger storm systems developing across the Pacific Ocean,” said meteorologist Drew Peterson. “We haven’t see a lot of rain so far ... The only thing we’re seeing from it are the waves.”
The first of two beach hazard statements planned for this week went into effect at 10 a.m. Monday and will expire at the same time Tuesday. It covers an area ranging from Sonoma County down to Monastery Beach in Monterey County.
Sneaker waves could reach heights of 3 to 6 feet, tall enough to be dangerous for anyone, Peterson said.
“A wall of water that’s as tall as you is going to knock you over and pull you right into the sea,” he said.
A second advisory will start midday Wednesday and remain in effect through the same time Thursday, with taller, more powerful waves at smaller intervals.
“It has a lot of energy coming in with it, and it’s very unusual for us to see those 3- to 6-foot waves at the 20 to 25-second range,” Peterson said.
People should use extreme caution when walking on beaches, docks and piers, Peterson said. The frigid ocean temperatures can induce near-immediate shock and drowning within about a minute for 1 out of 5 of people unexpectedly pulled into the ocean, according to the National Weather Service.
On Thanksgiving, a 4-year-old girl drowned after being pulled out to sea at McClures Beach in Point Reyes National Seashore, just hours after a similar advisory expired, Peterson said.
“Anytime we lose somebody it’s tragic, especially a child and especially on a holiday,” Peterson said. “The coastline is always perilous.”
In years past, storm systems arriving by late November and early December have included some measurable rain. But a La Niña system this year is having a drying effect on the weather in Northern California, leading meteorologists to expect no measurable precipitation until late December or January.
“We were facing something pretty similar last year,” Peterson said. “And then right around this time frame, the North Bay was hit by an atmospheric river that brought a huge shot of precipitation. We don’t see anything like that this year.”
The ongoing lack of rain could eventually lead to a meteorological drought, which proceeds two other official drought declarations — agricultural and hydrological — Peterson said. The North Bay is nearing a seasonal deficit of 4.5 inches of rain, he said.
“We’d really like to see some rain,” he said.
The persistent lack of precipitation could push fuels in Sonoma County into a level of record dryness, extending the ongoing risk associated with wildfire heading into December.
You can reach Staff Writer Kaylee Tornay at 707-521-5250 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @ka_tornay.
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