King Tides a Glimpse Into the Future

Not a cloud in the sky. Not a drop of rain anywhere. Yet, roads beneath the 101 underpass in Sausalito looked like a creek. Cars sloshed through torrents of flooding water, while orange cones guided drivers away from the murkiest areas.

You can blame the wet and wild scene on King Tides – the twice-a-year phenomenon where the moon, earth and sun align to create a particularly strong gravitational pull. The result is the highest tides of the year – and Sausalito bore the brunt.

“The flooding is pretty extensive in any of these low lying areas,” said Christopher Burg, whose office had an atypical waterfront view.

Burg has experienced King Tides for more than the 20 years he's worked in Sausalito and he knew the routine.

“You just sort of have to plan,” Burg said. “And time you're getting to the office.”

Low-lying areas of Sausalito were particularly susceptible to the tides since they were built hugging the bay. Researchers said the tides are glimpse decades into the future when sea levels are expected to rise around a foot.

“We can kind of use these tides to help us visualize what the average daily tide will look like in 50 to 100 years,” said Hayley Zemel of the California King Tide Initiative. The group was trying to raise awareness to King Tides by calling on people to take pictures of the impact.

“New development should have a clear plan in sight for where the water will be in the future,” said Zemel.

The tides are expected to occur through New Year’s Day – reaching their highest levels around 9 am. Some Sausalito businesses located near the water stacked sandbags in anticipation of the high water levels.

Burg said past tides were much higher, and harrowing when they occurred alongside winter storms. But the bone dry forecast meant the flooded roads were merely inconvenient rather than impassible.

The high tides also generated dramatic surf along Pacifica where people turned out to watch waves battering the sea wall. The National Weather Service warned people to be on the alert for rogue waves, which of course attracted even more visitors like Gary Graziani of Burlingame.

“You have the white, the blue in the sky, the blue in the ocean,” said Graziani, admiring the churning waves. “It’s fantastic.”

The California King Tides Initiative works with the government and other local organizations, to encourage people to take photos of King Tides down the California coast. Their goal is to use residents to raise awareness of potential flooding events or significant increase in sea-level.

Since its inception in 2010, the organization has created a diverse archive of King Tides photographs from people in local cities. Images from past years can also be found on their website.

This winter, you can upload your photos to the California King Tides Flickr Group to share your findings and help others monitor the height of tidal waves this season.

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