Storm Watching on the Oregon Coast

February 10, 2012 (Updated February 18, 2012)

Wintertime in Oregon offers a weather roller coaster ride of sorts when the gray shaded days of wind and rain are quickly followed by breaks of soothing warmth and sunshine. There’s never a dull moment this time of year.  Winter is the perfect time to check out the powerful natural drama that is found along Oregon’s coastline when he heads outdoors for a winter storm watch.

As winter surf floods and ebbs, beachcombers wander…seeking secrets from the tides.  Along the beach near Cape Meares, Don Best uses his camera to find the secrets that many of the beach strollers miss.  The longtime local has a passion for pulling out the best in a winter scene and his Best Impressions prove it.

“Sometimes it takes quite a few pictures to get the right one,” said Best. “There’s a lot of dynamic action; wave movement, breakers hitting the rocks or logs. Shooting the wind and the waves with a camera is exciting.”

That much is true on a day when sparkling sunshine clears away the gloomy gray as a powerful east wind stirs up a show on the ocean.

Best says those are the days to watch for “Spindrift” or “King Neptune’s Horses:”  “The wind blows the tops of the breakers back out to sea,” said Best. “It is stunning and the spray is like a white sheet that even has rainbows if you get the right angle.”

His photo collection of stormy coastal moments provides a unique angle to Oregon coastal life that many people never get a chance to see.  Many shots from Best’s collection of coastal photographs date back nearly a century and show that winter storms weren’t always so nice. In fact, they were terrible.

Like the winter of 1915, shortly after the Tillamook North Jetty was built and the Barview community was flooded by giant ocean waves.  Best’s album shows off images of railroad wreckage and homes that were lost as people watched helplessly when sweeping waves wiped out the town during a disastrous storm.

What were folks thinking about at the time?

“An escape route, where to run!” noted Best with a chuckle. “That’s what I would do too.”  Robert Smith, Oregon State Park’s Beach Safety Manager, said that when you head to the beach in winter it’s critical to stay alert because huge logs are often washed ashore. He said that just 5 inches of water can move a five-ton log.

“It’s such a big powerful ocean and we enjoy looking at that power, but people have to recognize that power can also prove dangerous and turn a log into a weapon.”

Smith added that rocky jetties might seem inviting because they offer a front row seat to the ocean’s action, but people should stay in their cars to enjoy the show and not walk out on the jetty rocks.

“The jetties are designed to protect the channels for safe shipping traffic and not designed for pedestrian use. The rocks – as large as they are – shift and can have caverns and sinkholes that you never see. Plus, you’ve got poor footing because it’s slippery. It’s just a recipe for disaster.”

Smith added that even the popular coastal hiking trails require caution:

“The amount of water and rain that we get here – coupled with the amount of sea spray  – adds up to increased erosion on our trails.”

But there’s no shortage of Oregon State Park Beach Waysides to enjoy winter storms, and Smith noted that some of his state park favorites include overlooks like Cape Meares or Heceta Head State Parks because both are fine vantage points that have lighthouses too.

“These sites are a little higher up, a little further away and definitely safer,” noted Smith. “You get a bird’s eye view of the power of the ocean. Perhaps the premier location for storm watching along the entire coast is Shore Acres State Park. It’s simply amazing when the surf crashes along that shoreline.”

There are many amazing places to watch nature’s drama play out along the northern Oregon coastline too – and if you’d like to enjoy a guided tour with a knowledgeable guide to show the way, check out Oregon Storm Tours in Seaside.

Darren Gooch and Patricia Murphy joined an ‘Oregon Storm Tour’ because it’s a safe and educational option and importantly; they “weren’t sure where to go.” OST’s David Posalski said that his driving tours stop at many north coast sites, but the Columbia River South Jetty viewing tower at Ft Stevens State Park is a favorite among the visitors who join him each winter.

“Usually it’ll be a single couple, like Darren and Patricia, and we decide what they want to see, what they want to do depending on their time and how active they want to be.

The wonderful thing about the tour is that David can present varied location options and you can tailor the trip to suit your time and budget and interests.

“We are the least touristy tour anyone has ever been on,” noted David.

About The

Grant McOmie
Grant McOmie is a Pacific Northwest broadcast journalist, teacher and author who writes and produces stories and special programs about the people, places, outdoor activities and environmental issues of the Pacific Northwest. A fifth generation Oregon native, Grant’s roots run deepest in the central Oregon region near Prineville and Redmond where his family continues to live.