King tides come in, out for the holiday weekend

SANTA CRUZ — Twice a year, during the constant dizzying dance of the sun, moon and Earth, the stellar bodies align in such a way that the ocean’s waters are pushed and pulled into and away from our planet more than usual, leading to the highest and lowest tides of the year, known by the unofficial, regal moniker, king tides.

King tides are a welcome phenomenon to those who enjoy witnessing the highest of tides, crashing over seawalls, and others who like to venture out into the exposed coastline in search of temporarily beached creatures and rare sea spectacles. From the highest point of the king tide to the lowest, the ocean levels change about nine feet, or the height of a tall, topped Christmas tree.

The king tides occur along the Pacific Coast around the ringing in of the new year. This time around, king tides will happen this week, Friday and Saturday, and then again in late January. Although the official king tides occur on Friday and Saturday this week, unusually high and low tides occur in the days leading up to and after the king tides as well, with an extreme low tide happening Thursday around 4 p.m.

King tides are the result of three main factors. As the moon orbits around the spinning Earth, it pulls the oceans away from the planet’s surface causing the normal ebb and flow of the tides, with two high tides and two low tides a day happening in coastal areas under normal conditions, and with some exceptions. Twice a month, at the new and full points of the moon cycle, the tides are more dramatic than usual, which are known as spring tides, not because of the season, but because of the way that sea springs away from the planet’s surface.

The low tide of the last king tide event exposes tidepools and kelp beds along Pleasure Point with lots of room for explorers to social distance. King tides, caused by the gravitational force of the sun and the moon, create exceptionally high tides, and approximately seven hours later, exceptionally low tides on the same day. (Shmuel Thaler – Santa Cruz Sentinel) 

The moon revolves around the earth in an imperfect circle or ellipse, similar to the outline of an egg. In the moon’s oblong orbit around the Earth there is a point when it is farthest away from the planet known as apogee, and the point when the satellite is closest to the planet, which is called perigee. When the moon is at the perigee, the gravitational pull on the oceans is greater, which means more pronounced tides.

In a similar fashion, the Earth orbits around the sun in an ovular path. When the Earth is at its closest point to the sun, or perihelion, the sun’s gravity tugs at the oceans with greater force, which occurs around the new year and makes for more dramatic tides. When the spring tide occurs at the perigee of the moon and perihelion of the sun concurrently, the result is the king tide.

For those that want to witness the high king tides of 2022, crashing violently into riprap and seawalls, check out the coastline on Friday around 9 a.m. and Saturday around 10 a.m. but keep your distance. For those curious explorers hoping to catch a glimpse of crabs, anemones and the occasional starfish, the lowest tide will be around 5 p.m. on Friday and around 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, according to tide predictions provided by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Although the sun sets around 5 p.m. the tide will be lowering all afternoon and conditions should be good for tidepooling. Friends of the Santa Cruz State Parks will be holding a king tide low tide walk from 2-3 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Natural Bridges State Beach. They encourage participants to dress for cold and windy conditions and stress the use of closed-toe, non-slip footwear suitable for navigating on slick crags and slabs.

Although the coast at Natural Bridges State Beach provides ideal conditions for king tidepooling, there are many other locations in the county such as along West Cliff Drive, Pleasure Point, Davenport Landing Beach and Santa Maria Beach in Live Oak, among others.

If you go

What: King tides

When: high tides around 9 a.m., low tides in late afternoon, Friday and Saturday

Where: Natural Bridges State Beach guided walk from 2-3 p.m. Friday and Saturday, West Cliff Drive, Davenport Landing Beach, Pleasure Point, Santa Maria Beach

Cost: Free

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