High surf reaches Shore Acres State Park from a southern California storm. This 2011 wave crash is the record holder for height - approximately 290 feet high!

Imagine if you will an amazing fireworks show: the thundering explosions, the bursts that trail across the sky, the oohs and ahhs of spectators below.

Now imagine a similar kind of spectacle, but in the middle of winter on the Oregon Coast. And instead of fireworks, picture gargantuan Pacific swells that swirl and seethe before dashing against jutting rocks, exploding in clouds of foam and mist that stream across the sky. Onlookers gush in awe even as they run for cover.

A powerful high surf being enjoyed by a colorful group of storm watching spectators at Shore Acres State Park.

Welcome to storm watching on the Oregon Coast. And not just any old stretch of the Beaver State’s storied coastline, but an area of unique geology that has created the perfect conditions for monster storms – and unforgettable storm watching. It’s called Oregon’s Adventure Coast. It includes the cities of Coos Bay, North Bend and Charleston. And if you’ve never been, and if you’re up for a singular storm experience, it’s time to go. 

A December storm in the Alaskan Aleutian Islands, created monster waves (2016 season record at 280 feet high) at Shore Acres State Park.

Stormy season locales

November through March is peak winter storm season on the Oregon Coast, but it’s elevated to a whole different level along the rocky shores of Oregon’s Adventure Coast. This is especially so at Shore Acres State Park in Charleston. Perched atop an 80-foot cliff, Shore Acres sits above a jagged jumble of sandstone formations that jut out toward the ocean. When a storm gets brewing, giant waves smash against the rocks and burst into misty plumes that sometimes soar more than 300 feet high. 

And not only is Shore Acres a big part of the formation of these stormy impacts, but it’s also an ideal place to experience them. From its lofty height, Shore Acres offers a relatively safe place for storm watchers to witness Oregon’s unbeatable winter storms. There’s a designated viewing area and even a storm-watching hut that offers both shelter and a view.

Other ocean vistas for winter storm watching include the bluff overlooking Bastendorff Beach and Sunset Bay State Park along Cape Arago Highway. The view from Lighthouse Viewpoint at Cape Arago State Park is another of the most stunning sights near Coos Bay, North Bend, and Charleston. The existing lighthouse structure, built-in 1909 on the site of Oregon’s very first lighthouse, is an important part of the Adventure Coast’s history as it provided navigational aid and warned mariners away from the dangerous, rocky shoreline until 2006.

The perfect storms

Though storms on the Oregon Coast are impacted by weather, ocean conditions have a greater impact on just how explosive the waves will be when they come crashing into the cliffs. When conditions in the ocean create large swells, they translate into incredible wave action. Put simply – the higher the swell, the bigger the crashing wave. We’ve seen swells of more than 30 feet before, but even a 16- to 20-foot swell can turn into a wave more than 100 feet high. And when that wave collides with Shore Acres’ sandstone cliffs, watch out.

Tides can also play a big role in the drama of storms. Every year, the Oregon Coast experiences a handful of king tides, which are the highest winter tides each year. Experienced when the orbits and alignments of the Earth, moon and sun sync just right, king tides bring higher water levels and, as a result, the potential for more dramatic coastal storms.

When you plan a storm-watching trip to Oregon’s Adventure Coast, check our Facebook page for the latest High Surf Advisories and Warnings. You can also visit the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Tides & Currents page for accurate tide predictions and find ocean conditions through NOAA’s marine forecast service.

Staying storm safe

Storm watching on Oregon’s Adventure Coast is an exhilarating experience. It’s also one that needs to be done with safety in mind.

  • Winter conditions on the Oregon Coast can be wet, windy, and cold. Pack quality raingear, extra layers, and waterproof boots or shoes.
  • If you’re walking on the beach, never turn your back to the ocean. Always be alert for sneaker waves and other hazards.
  • Avoid the temptation to hike or climb into areas that have been marked off-limits. Fences and other barriers have been put in place to keep people safe.
  • Always check weather and ocean conditions before you head out.

For more information on storm watching at Oregon’s Adventure Coast, visit OregonsAdventureCoast.com/storm-watching

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