The Coast News Group
A “king tide” encroaches on homes near Del Mar’s Dog Beach. The high tide events are problematic for coastal homes and infrastructure, a new reality we’ll have to deal with, according to scientists. Photo courtesy of Gabriel Buhr

‘King tides’ pose threat, won’t be as severe this time

COAST CITIES — In the past, “king tides” have flooded beachside restaurants in Cardiff, flung rocks at coastal homes and submerged the San Elijo Lagoon. 

But lifeguards aren’t expecting any damage on that level from the latest king tide event, Feb. 7 through Feb. 9.

King tides — tides several feet larger than normal that pound the beach — occur several times a year when the gravitational pull of the moon and sun are in alignment. According to Encinitas lifeguard Capt. Larry Giles, the king tides are particularly problematic if they overlap with big surf. Luckily, wave heights aren’t predicted to be larger than 3 to 4 feet Thursday and into the weekend.

“We’ll be watchful, but we’re not anticipating problems,” Giles said. “The lack of powerful surf helps a lot.”

Encinitas lifeguards shored up infrastructure during previous king tides. For instance, they placed sandbags on Cardiff State Beach to prevent flooding on Coast Highway 101, the Seaside Reef parking lot and for restaurants on that stretch. As Giles noted, despite the efforts, flooding was still an issue at times.

In addition to smaller surf, Cardiff State Beach is better prepared to handle king tides because of a recent beach replenishment, the sand from which acts as a barrier.

At Moonlight Beach, lifeguards build a sand berm during the summer to dissipate the energy of storm surges during king tide events.

“The berm protects lifeguard stations and other infrastructure,” Giles said.

Because most coastal homes in Encinitas are atop cliffs, they aren’t immediately threatened by king tides. But high tides contribute to cliff erosion, eventually posing a risk for homes.

Beachside homes sit on 17th to 29th streets in Del Mar without the short-term safety of cliffs. Still, with only moderate surf expected, Del Mar lifeguard Thomas Bryant said that he doesn’t expect king tides to be a major factor this time around for those homes.

Bryant noted that king tides, combined with big surf, have wreaked havoc in the past, especially during strong El Ninos in the early 1980s.

“You had homes flooded and windows smashed up,” Bryant said.

However, Bryant said recent years have been “a bit more calm.”

When forecasts show that big surf and king tides will converge, lifeguards notify homeowners that they should board up their homes and place sandbags.

In North County, other areas are vulnerable to king tide surges, including Torrey Pines and Oceanside, according to the California King Tides Initiative. The nonprofit group encourages volunteers to snap pictures of king tide events to show what daily tides will look like in the future if predicted sea level rises come to pass.

Scientists estimate that California will lose significant portions of its coast as a result of sea level rises from climate change.

“We want to illustrate the new normal,” Travis Pritchard said.

Pritchard is one of the initiative’s volunteers. He’s also San Diego Coastkeeper’s water quality lab manager. During the last king tide event in January, Pritchard said there was flooding in Ocean Beach and La Jolla.

“We’d like for people and governments to start looking at mitigation strategies for the sea level increase,” Pritchard said.

Pritchard noted homeowners have employed seawalls as a protection measure, but those “carry problems of their own.” The seawalls stop natural cliff erosion, shrinking beaches. And not only do homeowners have to worry about king tides, but so do governments responsible for stormwater and other kinds of infrastructure.

“We clearly need some other solutions,” Pritchard said.

Although this king tide event isn’t severe as previous ones, camera-toting volunteers will still be taking photos. Since 2011, the San Diego wing of the California King Tides Initiative has uploaded more than 310 photos.