Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Winter swell approaches Santa Barbara coastline


Boat owners and surfers alike are preparing for a large winter swell that will hit the local coastline beginning this morning, bringing heavy surf and possible coastal flooding before starting to diminish on Thursday.
West-facing beaches will take the brunt of the large surf with waves reaching heights of 16 feet along the coast south of Point Conception, according to a weather alert issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA). Weather forecasters expect the swell to peak Wednesday morning.

“This high surf will likely produce strong rip currents and local beach erosion,” according to the alert. “Some low-lying, west-facing shorelines may experience minor coastal flooding on Tuesday evening through Thursday morning in conjunction with the high tide — especially Wednesday morning.”
Harbor Patrol Supervisor Capt. Steve McCullough said while they don’t have a system for warning boat owners, patrol vessels will be on the lookout for boats that break free from their moorings.
“This is the first weather of any real note,” he said. “Usually, that’s when boats break loose.”
Boats already have been moved to winter mooring positions, Capt. McCullough said, clearing the area east of the wharf to prevent any boats that do break loose from hitting the pier. A small craft advisory is also in place through Wednesday night along coastal waters.
“We run across boaters when we’re out on patrol and let them know that the swell is increasing,” he said. “The people that tend to be the more prudent mariners follow the weather closely and come in early.”
If any boats shake loose and are beached, Capt. McCullough said Harbor Patrol will contact the owners as soon as possible. Usually, owners have about 24 hours to get their vessel off the beach before it gets sanded in or damaged too much to float.
“A lot of people don’t realize the urgency of getting the boat off the beach in that first 24-hour period,” he said.
Although boat owners may have spent the last few days on edge as the swell approaches, local surfers are psyched about what promises to be the first big surf session of the season.
“It’s gonna be really good and it’s gonna have a lot of west in it,” said longtime local surfer Doug Yartz, owner of Surf Country in Goleta. “Everywhere is going to be breaking. We should see rideable waves [this] morning.”
With breakers between seven and 12 feet on South Coast beaches and 15- to 20-footers north of Point Conception, Yartz said surfers should have no trouble finding decent breaks.
“With so much west in it, it tends to be more waves everywhere,” he said. “As soon as one place gets crowded, you go around the corner and there’s another place that isn’t that crowded.”
He said his business has seen a 20 to 30 percent jump in sales just from the buzz in the surfing community. After a weak surf season last year, Yartz said he is looking forward to heading out to Campus Point to catch some waves.
“Usually we get between seven and 10 days of the year where it’s got a lot of west like this,” he said. “Last year we didn’t even have six days of overhead surf the whole season. It’s usually feast or famine.”
As the swell starts to die out through Thursday afternoon, weather officials are also forecasting a large storm to follow on its heels — with a 70 percent chance of rain on Thursday night and Friday, and a 60 percent chance of rain on Saturday.
“This storm has the potential to produce hazardous flooding and debris flows as well as hazardous driving conditions and hazardous winter conditions in the mountains,” according to a NOAA weather advisory.
“I don’t think we’ll have any real drastic tides,” Capt. McCullough said. “We’re just hoping this will all be cleared out and we’ll have a good Parade of Lights on Sunday.”

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