A Bomb Cyclone Caused a Colossal 75-Foot Wave Off California, One of the Largest Ever Recorded

Storm waves
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Last month, UC San Diego’s Scripps Institute for Oceanography recorded a colossal 75-foot-high wave just 20 miles off California’s Lost Coast. Researchers say it’s the single largest wave ever recorded by the Cape Mendocino buoy in Northern California (where the water is over 1,000 feet deep), SF Gate reports. That’s a swell so monstrous it’d make even the biggest vessels look like bath toys.

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The storm that produced the massive wave was the “bomb cyclone” that pounded the West Coast in late November. During this storm, average wave height was about 43 feet (to put that in perspective, typical wave height at this location during this time of year is usually 10 feet), SnowBrains reports.

Troy Nicolini, the meteorologist in charge at NOAA’s National Weather Service, told CNN that the bomb cyclone brought in a “dynamic fetch”—when very strong winds move in the same direction as the waves they’re creating. He compared it to pushing a child on a swing: If you kept pushing the child, eventually you’ll push them right off. Similarly, this storm maintained its hold on the waves, aggressively pushing them all the way up toward the coast.

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“The cyclone really deepened and strengthened quite a bit and the wind behind the cyclone really amplified the waves,” National Weather Service forecaster Josh Whisnant told SF Gate. “We had gusts over 50 mph over the water associated with the event. That churns up the ocean and builds the wave height even more.”

Luckily, in this instance, the waves approached shore at low tide and the National Weather Service restricted boaters from entering the water, so the coast remained unharmed, reports CNN.

“It’s often just a game of chance,” Nicolini told CNN. “If they came at a peak time, they would’ve caused significant damage.”

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