E & P: The simulated tsunami had it all, except sirens

By Richard Wiens, The Triplicate January 16, 2014 12:29 pm

You had to be there, and hardly anybody was.

The winter’s first storm blew through Del Norte early Saturday. People trying to sleep close to the sea were serenaded by an orchestra of three sections: wind, rain and surf.

By Sunday, the first two were silenced, but the last one was booming. Then it teamed up with the morning’s high tide to create tsunami-like conditions — without the sirens.

Laura and I made the rounds to soak it all in, almost literally as well as figuratively on our first stop at the north end of Pebble Beach.

Yes, the guy who made the call to play the wave-warning story at the top of the front page of Saturday’s Triplicate found himself actually running to avoid a 2-foot-high wall of water and driftwood that suddenly surged about 30 feet past previous waves and nearly swamped the road.

Having rearranged the beach in a splash, the intruder quickly receded, but there were others of his ilk. Indeed, Sunday’s wave action was reminiscent of March 11, 2011, when people lined Pebble Beach Drive for hours to watch the spectacle of extreme high and low tides maybe five minutes apart, over and over on the day of the tsunami that ruined the harbor.

This time, we had the show to ourselves. Then we took it on the road, driving out B Street to the pier turnaround and parking near two other vehicles to watch the waves crash over Crescent City’s main jetty. White froth sprayed high against the blue sky, then poured over a wide swath of the breakwater with a Niagara Falls effect.

Even closer, just in front of us, the tsunami simulation resumed on the long strip of sand between the extension of B Street and the jetty, an area where the water is usually calmed by the enclosure of the harbor bay.

Not this day. Storm surges sped along the funnel, flattening only as they neared the higher ground inland from Battery Point, then pulling back with almost equal speed and power. We were surprised to see a pickup with canopy rumble onto the flat near where the waves were expiring. Then its driver got out and walked his dogs nearer to the water’s farthest reach. Daring.

Our last stop was Preston Island, where the decades-ago demolition of a sea stack to build the jetty left behind a massive bulwark from which to view crashing waves at eye-level. Again we marvelled at the, ahem, gutsiness of a man far out on the stone expanse, sometimes silhouetted by sudden towers of foam.

Search and Rescue must love days like this.

Lingering at this final scene, we even shot video like tourists. Where were the real ones on a day at the beach that definitely merited a drive over from Grants Pass, Medford, wherever? Were they heeding the National Weather Service warning to stay away from the water? Or just ignoring us altogether?

You had to be there, and hardly anybody was.

But that’s part of the charm of the place.