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California Escapes High Tide Calamity

January 1, 1987

Undated (AP) _ Coastal residents stacked sandbags and some canceled New Year’s Eve parties Wednesday in preparation for the highest tides in 18 years, but little damage was expected except in areas of storm wind and high waves.

The high tide is caused by the increased gravitational pull of a rare alignment of the Earth, sun and moon called szygy. In addition, both sun and moon are far south of the equator, and the moon is at perigee, its closest approach to the Earth in a month.

High water forced the brief closure of one lane along a three-mile stretch of Pacific Coast Highway in southern California’s Orange County near Seal Beach and Surfside.

That region had no storm-churned surf to damage oceanfront property, althogh precautions included 10-foot sand berms on beaches, sandbag barricades and makeshift sea walls.

But a threat that wind and low pressure from approaching storm fronts would coincide with high tides raised a possibility of flooding in Washington state.

And a coastal flood warning was issued in South Carolina because of the possibility of high wind and surf during Thursday’s high tide, up to 2 feet above normal, from a storm expected to move from the Gulf of Mexico toward the mid-Atlantic.

Wind had reached nearly 36 mph Wednesday at the Savannah, S.C., Light Tower.

At Myrtle Beach, S.C., a half-dozen people hired by a Sheraton hotel stacked sandbags 4 feet high Tuesday along an eroded bank that separates the 17-story inn’s lawn from the sea.

″The only thing we’re trying to do is break the energy of the wave before it gets any further to the base of the sand dune,″ manager Bill Simon Jr. told the Charlotte Observer.

The same weather system threatening South Carolina was expected to affect the coast of New England during high tide Friday, and the National Weather Service warned of possible waterfront erosion. Tides about two feet above normal were expected Thursday. High tide at Portland, Maine, was nearly a foot above normal Wednesday and no flooding was reported.

In Washington, weather fronts arriving during the night raised little threat, but ″there’s a chance we might have a problem on Friday,″ when a third front is expected at the time of Puget Sound’s highest tides of the week, said meteorologist Bill Sites of the National Weather Service.

Wednesday morning’s high tide at Seattle was two-tenths of a foot lower than the predicted 13.1 feet, thanks to high pressure and offshore wind.

″We’ve pulled up all of our rugs, all the padding, and every appliance that we have is up on blocks,″ said Mabel Dean, whose Day Island home near Tacoma, Wash., has been flooded by high tides three times in nearly 17 years.

High tides along the Oregon Coast were greater than expected but no serious flooding was reported.

The state’s highest tide had been expected to roll in at 10 1/2 feet at Newport. But scientists at the Hatfield Marine Science Center recorded a midday tide of about 11 feet, said marine education specialist Donald Giles.

At nearby Waldport, a focus of concern because a sandspit has eroded, a 10.4-foot tide crashed over a rock embankment but caused no damage. The tide had been forecast to peak at 10 feet.

In southern California, the highest tide at 7.3 feet above the median tide mark, about 1 1/2 feet above normal, was reached Wednesday morning. It will drop to 7.1 feet Thursday.

In San Diego, Sheldon Vos of Acme Bags sold more than 7,000 sandbags this week and Mike Marnelo of San Diego Bag Co. said his business had increased 30 percent in recent days.

The beachfront Poseidon restaurant in Del Mar decided to close New Year’s Eve because of the high tides. ″What if we hold a big party and something happens? It would be chaos,″ said manager James Gordon.

Surfers shared waves with birds in Malibu, where sea lions also frolicked, and elusive marsh birds were flushed from their hiding places, giving ornithologists a glimpse of the rarely-seen quarry.

″I’ve never seen so many birds in the water enjoying the surf. They’re body surfing on the waves, then they dive under,″ said surfer Paula Pezzato, 33, who rode the waves at dawn below Johnny Carson’s Point Dume estate.

Extremely high tides also mean extremely low tides, exposing reefs and tidal pools teeming with sea creatures. Curious beach visitors have prowled the reef at Malibu Lagoon State Park all week poking at the aquatic life.

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