Monday, March 11, 2024

El Niño winter swells 2023-2024


The 2023-2024 winter season has had similar coastal impacts as the 2016 El Niño event.  Higher sea levels and a signature strong Pacific storm track has focused wave energy and impacted beaches and infrastructure up and down the California coast.  In Ventura County, the beaches were stripped of sand exposing those areas most vulnerable to future sea level rise.

On December 28, 2023, the leading edge of a building pacific swell sent a storm surge over protective walls in the Pierpont neighborhood.  

A video of people and cars being flushed up the street went viral and made national news.  Ocean water and debris flooded the lanes in the Pierpont neighborhood, and there was some damage to docks at a marina in the Ventura Harbor. 


In response to this event, the City of Ventura and County firefighting units built three miles of sand berms the length of the developed beaches in Ventura and Oxnard. These berms were removed during the week of March 4 with authorization from the California Coastal Commission and Army Corps of Engineers.

A pierpont resident was quoted in the news saying, "We did have a breach, as the surge came over into my backyard in December. Then the next day, they put the berm up, and I had no worries after that. It totally disrupted my view, but that's a small price for the protection having all of your stuff ruined."  This echos the sentiment of beachfront residents who have resisted efforts to build permanent protective dunes and prevailed in a lawsuit requiring the City of Ventura to remove windblown sand accumulating in front of their properties.

Ventura County Fire Dept removing sand berm
Oxnard Shores, 3-5-2024


This event was predictable using the advanced weather and wave models currently available.  Surfers regularly use these models to know when the best conditions will occur.  In this case the swell had been monitored and tracked as it developed off the coast of Japan and built all the way across the Pacific Ocean.  The leading edge of these swells typically have a very long period indicative of the huge amount of energy from the extended "fetch" of high winds transferred to the sea surface.  The irony was the "too little too late" emergency response from local government.  Better awareness of ocean conditions and long term planning is clearly needed as climate change fuels ever bigger storm systems and rising sea levels.  Local tide gages were registering around one foot above the predicted astronomical tide, primarily a result of thermal expansion from the warm water throughout the Pacific Ocean fueled by El Niño.  These events are already happening before significant sea level rise.  According to the California Coastal Commission we can expect "as much as a 66-inch increase in sea level along segments of California's coast by the year 2100."  Under that scenario the Pierpont community will be under water much of the year.


Stormsurf wave prediction for 12-28-2023


watch the Stormsurf videos to learn more about El Niño and ocean wave generation.  

Sea Level Rise - California Coastal Commission

In the News:

Rogue wave injures eight, damages coastal motel in Ventura, KCLU | By Lance Orozco, Published December 28, 2023

Temporary sand berms intended to prevent coastal flooding are being removed in Ventura County, KCLU | By Lance Orozco, Published March 5, 2024

See damage from heavy surf in Ventura's Pierpont neighborhood, VC Star, Dec 29, 2023

On this blog:

Surfers Point - first real test