Huntington Beach, Calif. • Seawater spread into several low-lying communities along the California coast Thursday morning as unusually high "king tides" pulled the Pacific Ocean farther ashore than normal.
Causing some damage but mostly just making a nuisance, water flooded Pacific Coast Highway and side streets in Sunset Beach, a sliver of Huntington Beach between the ocean and a yacht harbor. Down the Southern California coast, Newport Bay was brimming, while just north of San Francisco the tide swamped a commuter parking lot in Marin City and seeped into dozens of cars.
Bruce DuAmarell, an 18-year resident of the Sunset Beach, said he got a call at work from an alarmed neighbor and came home.
"My garage had flooded. There were four to five inches in my garage," he said, as he took a break from sweeping water out onto the street. "It came up over the seawall and literally filled up the harbor."
DuAmarell said he lost a vacuum cleaner and some Christmas presents for his children, but otherwise was unscathed.
Occurring several times a year, king tides happen when the Earth, moon and sun align in a way that increases gravitational pull on the Earth's oceans, raising water levels several feet above normal high tides. The non-scientific term also refers to extremely low tides.
Residents of Sunset Beach expect flooding, but that didn't keep 13-year resident Fred Grether out of trouble.
He tried to drive his 2004 Porsche to a car wash to rinse off the salt water after the flooding reached the rims and undercarriage. But driving to the car wash did more damage than staying put, he said as a tow truck prepared to haul his car to the shop.
"I didn't realize how deep it was at the intersection and as soon as I got to the intersection, I heard this frizzling noise and my car alarm started going off and I realized that I had burned out the electrical system on my car," he said.
"Now I'm off to my local mechanic today about me doing something very, very stupid," said Grether, who's seen flooding three times.
The tide at Marin City reached 7 feet, slightly higher than during last December's king tides. The damage could have been much worse if the weather had brought big waves along with the high tides, National Weather Service forecaster Larry Smith said
"Right now it's just a neat thing.... When we have the low tide this afternoon you will be see father out than you normally would," Smith said. "It kind of does give you a glimpse of what the future might be with the sea level rise."
The event provided organizers of the California King Tides Initiative an opportunity to get California residents thinking about and preparing for the future. The 3-year-old initiative, sponsored by government and nonprofit groups, enlists camera-toting volunteers to photograph the King Tides as an illustration of what low-lying coastal areas could look like if predictions about the Earth's climate come to pass.
As of Thursday afternoon, about 100 new snapshots had been uploaded to the photo-sharing project, coordinator Heidi Nuttles said.
"It's definitely very high tides this year, and we just encourage people to use this opportunity to go out, take pictures and reflect what this means for our shoreline and the fact that's its constantly changing even today, and how that might affect how we think about sea level rise in the future," Nuttles said.