What is a Sneaker Wave? and Why You Don’t Want to Get Caught in One


EUREKA, Calif. (KIEM) They say to never turn your back on the ocean. Here on the North Coast that is especially true. Steep beaches and cold temperatures can make for deadly sneaker waves. 

“A sneaker wave is any wave that catches you by surprise,” said Troy Nicolini, Meteorologist in Charge at the Eureka National Weather Service station. He goes on to say, “the key about the North Coast is that we have a lot larger waves. There are some really steep beaches, with really cold water and incredibly complex and strong rip currents.”

Don’t let their deceiving appearance fool you. Nicolini said these waves have led to deadly situations. 

“If you walk out on the beach and the ocean looks calm, it’s really easy to allow yourself to get close to the water’s edge,” Nicolini said. “But then a larger wave can then come without warning and surprise you and get you in one of those precarious situations.”

Nicolini explained that NWS is not trying to deter people from going to the beach, but rather provide the right safety instructions. 

“The key thing is to choose your beach well,” he said. “Go to the flatter beaches like Clam Beach, for example. Those are always typically much safer.”

Nicolini also suggests observing the waves for 10 minutes to see if there are any large waves. Another precaution you can take is to check the NWS website before you leave the house. When beach conditions are hazardous NWS will put out a beach hazard statement. 

“We try to notify folks when we think sneaker waves are going to occur. It’s not a really perfect science. It’s a very challenging phenomenon to forecast.”

National Weather Service Website: National Weather Service

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