High Surf Events This Week

27 01 2021

Dale C. S. Destin|

Much higher than usual surfs are expected to pound the shorelines of much of the Eastern Caribbean. One episode is getting underway and will last for 24 to 36 hours. A second episode will occur over the weekend. These surfs are expected to cause the threat level to rise to high for life, livelihood, property and infrastructure of those using or living on the affected coastlines and there is the potential for extensive impacts.

Past Surf Event - James Beach
Fort James Beach, Antigua, During a Past High Surf Event

Based on the expected swells, which will transition to surfs when they reach near shore, surfs over 3 metres (10 feet) are projected to take place at times. Advisories and warnings are expected for a number of islands.

The first hazardous surf event is likely to subside by Friday for most areas but rise again over the weekend. The second episode of dangerous surfs will start across the Bahamas on Friday and reach the Eastern Caribbean by Saturday.

It is the surf season, when powerful winter storms come off North America, often packing the equivalent of tropical cyclone winds, sometimes reaching winds equal to hurricane strength. These systems frequently track across the “pond” from the United states to Europe, all the while pushing large swells toward the Caribbean and elsewhere, resulting in hazardous conditions along mainly north and east-facing coastlines of the islands.

5-day plot - Swell Height at 41044
High Swells Heading for the Eastern Caribbean to Become High Surfs or Breaking Waves Near Shorelines

The coming high surf events will be due to a series of winter storms. The one that will cause the surf episode over the weekend will be a storm, whose pressure drop by 24 millibar or more in 24-hours. Such winter storm systems are called bomb-cyclones.

There is no strong wind concern for any of the islands. The concern is for mainly Atlantic coastlines for especially the Northeast Caribbean – from Puerto Rico to the northern Windward Islands.

Potential impacts include but not limited to:

  • loss of life;
  • injuries to beachgoers;
  • salt-water intrusion and disruptions to potable water from desalination
  • disruptions to marine recreation and businesses;
  • beach erosion and
  • sea water splashing onto low lying coastal roads.

All should be very wary about bathing in the impacted areas. Personally, although I can swim, I do not plan to go to the beach during the times the surfs are expected to be higher than usual. Going rock fishing is not advisable.

The concern is not only for high surfs, but also rip currents. Rip currents are powerful channels of water flowing quickly away from shore, which occur most often at low spots or breaks in the sandbar and near structures such as groins, jetties and piers. High surf events make for very conducive conditions for rip currents.

If caught in a rip current, relax and float. Don’t swim against the current. If able, swim in a direction following the shoreline. If unable to escape, face the shore and call or wave for help.

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