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Some Are Nice To Watch, But For Others Run Away.

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We see them in a sports arena, when we see someone we know in a crowd, and when we’re at the coast. The topic of this article is, as I’m sure you already guessed, waves.

Ducks Wave
Ducks Wave At Autzen Stadium | Photo by Youtub

Not the wave made popular at sporting events, nor the friendly wave of a hand from a friend. The waves on the ocean are much more complicated than the others I have mentioned. They can be beautiful, relaxing, fun to ride on, and of course deadly under the right conditions.

First we need some definitions. According to “An ocean wave is a disturbance in the ocean that transmits energy from one place to another, ocean waves are usually generated by wind on the ocean’s surface, they may also be caused by underwater earthquakes, which can generate catastrophic tsunamis.”

A swell when taking place on an ocean, sea, or lake according to “is a series of mechanical waves that propagate along the interface between water and aired so they are often referred to as surface gravity waves.These series of surface gravity waves are not generated by immediate local wind, instead by distant weather systems, where wind blows for a duration time over a fetch of water.”

Sneaker Wave
Sneaker Wave-Barview Jetty County Campground, Rockaway Beach, OR | Photo by Bruce Ely/AP

There is particular type of wave called a “sneaker wave” that can appear seemingly out of nowhere and crash with force higher on the beach than the other waves. Once caught by the wave the force of the receding wave can pull objects or people farther out into the ocean. You may remember the tragedy that occurred on January 15th of this year when a 31-year-old father and his 3-year-old son were swept out into the Pacific Ocean and drowned. The mother, father, and their son were on the beach about 20 miles south of Bandon when the incident occurred. The father and son were walking on a steep part of the beach at about 1 pm when they were caught by a large sneaker wave. Authorities reported that the waves and swell were quite high because a storm was approaching the coast. This is just one example of how dangerous waves can be. That’s why people who come to the beach should never turn their back on the ocean or walk too close to where the waves are rolling in.

Rogue Wave
Rogue Wave | Photo by The Physics of Rogue Waves-Signe Dean

There is another kind of wave that can be deadly called a rogue wave. According to National Ocean Service, a part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) “Rogues, called ‘extreme storm waves’ by scientists, are those waves which are greater than twice the size of surrounding waves, are very unpredictable, and often come unexpectedly from directions other than prevailing wind and waves.” “Most reports of extreme storm waves say they look like ‘walls of water.’ They are often steep-sided with unusually deep throughs.” The exact how and when they form are still being studied.

The Edmund Fitzgerald
The Sunken Edmund Fitzgerald | Photo by

Ocean waves are not the only dangerous kind of waves. Storms on lakes can produce killer waves also. The sinking of the freighter Edmund Fitzgerald on November 10, 1975 in a storm on Lake Superior is an example of just how dangerous they can be.

Canadian singer/songwriter Gordon Lightfoot wrote and recorded the song “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” which told the story of the ill-fated ship and her crew.

Tsunami Wave
2004 Indonesian Tsunami | Photo by youtube

The power of a tsunami has been witnessed all over the world. I wrote about them in a previous column.

So, keep all of this in mind the next time you stroll on the beach watching the waves slide up the beach along our Oregon coast and never turn your back on the ocean.

Let me know what you would like me to talk about or explain. You can comment below or email me at:

Tim Chuey is a Member of the American Meteorological Society and the National Weather Association and has been Awarded Seals of Approval for television weathercasting from both organizations.

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