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Extreme ‘king tides’ hit Encinitas coastline

Solid swell and “king tides” resulted in wave energy pressing up against rocks that protect Cardiff restaurants.
( / Jared Whitlock)

Dangerous “king tides” hit the Encinitas beaches Jan. 19-21. Although it appeared flooding wasn’t an issue, lifeguards made more rescues than normal over the weekend into the beginning of the king tide event.

King tides — extremely high and low tides — happen when the gravitational pull of the sun and moon are in alignment. When combined with big surf, they can cause significant issues.

Encinitas lifeguard Capt. Larry Giles said a solid swell with 4-to-6-foot waves coincided with the recent king tides. Luckily, the surf wasn’t big enough to result in major flooding, he said.

In the 1980s, king tides and huge surf flooded restaurants in Cardiff and flung rocks at cars traveling on nearby Coast Highway 101.

“I’ve been here for 27 years, and I’m hoping we never see those kind of problems again,” Giles said.

The recent king tide event wasn’t all smooth sailing. Giles said wave energy reached the cliffs in some spots. Over time, such occurrences speed up bluff erosion, threatening homes and other infrastructure.

And because king tides result in very low and high tides, they also generate strong rip currents, creating dangerous conditions for surfers and swimmers.

From Jan. 17-19, the latest figures available, local lifeguards made 10 rescues at Moonlight Beach and surrounding coastline, more than typical over the winter, Giles said.

Although the tides won’t be as extreme this weekend, a big swell is forecasted to kick up wave heights, with 7-to-9 foot waves expected Jan. 24. at the peak of the swell. Giles urged surfers and swimmers to practice caution.

Katherine Weldon, the city’s shoreline preservation manager, said the beaches have a healthy amount of sand right now, largely due to a regional beach replenishment project in 2012. Wide beaches act as a barrier, dissipating wave energy and thus protecting infrastructure.

“We’re in pretty good shape right now,” Weldon said.

Encinitas and Solana Beach have a joint plan that calls for regularly replenishing beaches over a 50-year period.

However, last year the cities missed a key deadline for obtaining federal funding for the project. That means it could be another two years or more before they have the chance to apply for federal funding.

In meantime, Weldon said Encinitas will get sand from alternative sources. For instance, Leucadia beaches will receive 117,000 cubic yards of sand next fall from a Batiquitos Lagoon dredging, she said.

In light of climate change causing rising sea levels, the California King Tides Project says that the events offer a glimpse into the future. That is, the highest tides of today will be the average levels within the next century.

For planning purposes, the group encourages people to snap pictures of king tides and upload them on its website.

“The pictures that you take help scientists and managers better plan for future flood risks, and give you a way to participate directly in the science that will drive decisions in our community,” their website states.

Recently, the Encinitas City Council formed a subcommittee to look at ways to protect Encinitas’ coast because of rising sea levels. The first meeting date hasn’t been set.

The previous round of king tides occurred in December. The next event is Feb. 17-19.


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