By | Michelle N. Meyers
Waves upwards of 20 feet tossed and turned against the Humboldt coastline this week.
According to the National Weather Service Marine Forecast, a small craft advisory is also in effect until Sunday afternoon. While the first big swells of the season are already arriving, the winter swell season has merely just begun.
With more swells and even bigger waves on the way this season, it begs the question:
How do such massive waves come to be?
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), water does not actually travel in waves. Waves are merely the transfer of energy, moving from one neighboring water molecule to the next.
The NOAA says that waves are most commonly generated by wind. Wind-driven waves, or surface waves, start out when changes in temperature produce a change in air pressure. Air then follows its natural path, moving from an area of high pressure to an area of low pressure. This movement is referred to as wind.
As the wind blows across the ocean’s surface, it generates ripples. This happens in a similar way to how ripples are created when you blow over the surface of a cup of water. These ripples increase in intensity to eventually become waves.
What determines the size of a wave?
The NOAA says that the size of these waves are determined by three main factors:
Wind Speed: How fast the wind is blowing.
Wind Duration: How long the wind blows.
Fetch: Distance over water that the wind blows in a single direction.
The biggest waves occur when wind speed is at its highest, wind duration is at its longest and when fetch is long or unlimited.
There are several other factors that can affect wave size in a certain area, some of those factors include:
Swell Direction: The direction in which the swell originated from.
Ocean Floor Topography: Forms or physical features on the ocean floor.
Tide: Rising and falling tides are caused by a gravitational attraction between the earth, moon and the sun.
Why are these big waves in Humboldt?
“It is because the storms that come out of the North Pacific are incredibly powerful,” said Dr. Jeffry Borgeld, Oceanography professor at HSU who specializes in Geological Oceanography. These storms “can be as energetic as a tropical storm, typhoon or a hurricane.”
Despite the cold, powerful and often unforgiving conditions, there are a few individuals that can be seen bobbing amidst the chaos and gliding over the massive surf.
HSU psychology student William Doudna is one of them.
“There’s something very cleansing about surfing that if i don’t do it, i just don’t feel comfortable in my own skin,” said Doudna. “I feel like a better person every time I come out of the water.”