Storm-Watching and King Tides: A Perfect Pair

Storm-watching on the Long Beach Peninsula is one of nature’s most dazzling performances, and we’re lucky enough to have a front-row seat.

by Danelle Dodds, Freelance Content Writer, Visit Long Beach Peninsula

As the winter winds blow onto our Washington shore, they bellow in another of our favorite seasons. Crashing waves, turbulent skies, sunshine cameos, and scattered rainbows lay the groundwork for memory-making. And when you throw in our magnificent King Tides and two lighthouses, you’ll experience a natural wonder that is bucket-list worthy.

What are King Tides and What Do They Mean to Storm-Watching?

A King Tide refers to exceptionally high tides during new and full moons. These are the most extreme tides of the year. They are a powerful force of nature that raises the water levels and saturates the shorelines. When the union of storms and King Tides come together, it is a marriage of breathtaking proportions. The combination of higher surges and seasonal squalls results in mind-blowing, mile-high waves you can’t fathom until you see them in person.

When are King Tides?

King Tides only occur a few times a year. This cosmic phenomenon peaks during winter when the moon is closest to the Earth, and the sun, Earth, and moon are aligned. The Long Beach Peninsula usually offers three King Tides over the winter season, so plan your storm-watching trip accordingly. You can usually capture the action seasonally from November to January. Follow the Washington Sea Grant King Tides calendar for the most accurate tide timing. And if your travel dates fall outside the King Tide windows, don’t fret. While King Tides are spectacular, winter storm-watching off the Washington coast still electrifies your senses.

Experience Five Sense Storm-Watching

Experiencing the moment our passionate wintery waves meet their fate against the merciless cliff walls is a full-body experience. Each of your five senses will be tingling. The guttural rumble of the unyielding ocean reverberates in your ears and spine. The salty tang of the sea’s spray tickles your skin and seasons your tongue. The airborne waves perfume the sky with their briny dew. But the visual display keeps our visitors coming back for more.

Wild waves whip themselves into a frenzy from the turmoil of the storm. The longer you watch, the more the wave’s colors kaleidoscope before your eyes. Grey-blue deep water begins a journey toward the shore, covered in a rolling blanket of whitecaps. As the breakers take shape, the subtle color shifts with hues of dark slate and hints of lime. When the final hurl of water against rock occurs, emerald fans explode in the frothy seafoam lace as a crescendo to their violent tango.

And don’t even get us started on our coastal skies after a rain. The canvas of our ever-stretching horizon is awash in heavenly hues of amber, violet, and fuchsia. Occasionally adorned with a rainbow prism, our post-squall sky will take your breath away.

So, where can you go to see all this beauty?

photo credit: Corey Dembeck
Park Ranger at Cape Disappointment State Park; Photo by Corey Dembeck

Park Ranger at Cape Disappointment State Park; Photo by Corey Dembeck

Best Places for Storm-Watching

Washington’s Long Beach Peninsula stretch of sand gets a lot of coverage as one of the best spots in the Pacific Northwest for storm-watching. With 28 miles of beach, two cliff side light houses, bayfronts, and coves, we have plenty of natural viewpoints for taking in the action.

To experience one of the most iconic perspectives, head to Waikiki Beach in Cape Disappointment State Park. In the distance, you’ll see the Cape D Lighthouse poised 200 feet above the sea. This jagged cliff face is where the ferocious waves land the final blows of their watery tantrum. The results are jaw-dropping visuals and photo opportunities. During King Tides, the parking areas near Waikiki Beach will be saturated with photographers, so arrive early. Shutterbugs travel for miles to snap a photo of this significant shot.

Take in the sights from the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center for a birds-eye view. This angle puts you above the action, allowing you to appreciate the full swell of the Pacific Ocean as she makes her grand entrance to the shore.

For a more moody, introspective storm-watching experience without all the wave drama, get cozy in a coffee shop or restaurant along Willapa Bay or the Port of Ilwaco. Watch heavy clouds roll their weighted blanket over the sky as you settle in with a hot latte and a good book.

If you’d rather stay in bed while taking in the storm, stay in one of our hotel’s oceanfront rooms and simply draw back the curtains. We love taking in the squalls while still in our pajamas.

photo credit: Visit Long Beach Peninsula
Two girls decked out in storm-watching gear.

Two girls decked out in storm-watching gear.

How to Prepare for Storm-Watching

Outdoor storm-watching can easily take place in your regular winter wear. We recommend adding a raincoat and waterproof shoes to make it more comfortable. Buy a Discover Pass for access to Cape Disappointment State Park. And no matter what you do, don’t forget your camera. You'll want to capture the magic when Mother Nature puts on her storm-watching show.

Staying Safe During Storm-Watching

Safety is paramount year-round on our beaches, but especially during storm-watching. Don’t take the wrath of the sea lightly. Part of what makes storm-watching a dramatic display is the same conditions that can make it dangerous. Our currents are strong, and our waves are unpredictable. Never turn your back on the ocean and watch for sneaker waves (strong waves that can appear without warning). Stay off jetties and rocks, and stay clear of driftwood or logs. Follow a few beach safety tips to keep you and your loved ones safe.

Beat the winter blues and plan your storm-watching trip today. We may just become one of your new winter vacation destinations. And be sure to tag us in your wild storm photos. Our coastline will be your muse, rain or shine.

About the Authors

  • Danelle Dodds
  • Contact: [email protected]

    WELCOME TO THE WASHINGTON COAST. Slow down, unplug, and enjoy all the Washington coast has to offer. The Long Beach Peninsula and Pacific County have an abundance of ultra-fresh seafood, endless beach, northwest rain forests, and unique places to stay. Close to both Portland and Seattle, it’s an easy escape and the perfect place to create traditions that last a lifetime.

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