El Niño: Big King Tides Hit California

High tide Ocean Beach (Eric Risberg : Associated Press)
(AP Photo / Eric Risberg)

Unusually high tides known as “king tides” struck parts of California on Tuesday, causing flooding in some areas and raising the possibility of dangerous rip currents along the coast.

At least one section of the Midway District in San Diego experienced flooding early Tuesday morning, according to local ABC affiliate KGTV. The source of the flooding was quickly discovered to be an overflow of storm drains unable to handle the additional pressure.

Regular high tides occur each month during the full and new moon, due to increased gravitational pull. King tides happen near the solstices, and are even more pronounced when the Earth approaches perihelion, the phase of its orbit when it comes closest to the sun, according to Southern California Public Radio (SCPR). The Earth will be in perihelion in January.

In the short term, king tides could cause water levels to rise more than 7 feet through Thanksgiving and into the end of this week. The high tides could cause flooding in low-lying coastal areas; the National Weather Service has issued a coastal flood advisory that remains in effect until noon on Friday.

By themselves, king tides are unlikely to do any serious damage to coastal areas. However, should the king tides coincide with this winter’s expected El Niño and the resultant rainstorms, the weather pattern could cause powerful waves that could batter and flood low-lying areas.

“We expect most of the rain to come late December, January, February, March–that’s what’s being forecast,” L.A. County Department of Beaches and Harbors spokeswoman Carol Baker told SCPR. “The combination of a strong El Niño with winter storms and high tide is the thing that we are most concerned about and want to be prepared for.”

Baker told the outlet that Los Angeles County has been preparing for the possibility of king tides mixing with the El Niño for several weeks. The county has reportedly constructed additional sand barriers to protect l0w-lying buildings, beaches and public spaces.

According to the California King Tides Project, which tracks the effect of increased water levels across California, king tides are expected to hit the state between November 24-26, December 22-24 and January 21-22.