A winter wonderland

By Scott Graves, Pilot staff writer November 06, 2010 06:00 am

Winter time means change. And there’s no better proof of this than our local beaches and rivermouths.

Anybody who visits these places regularly throughout the year can vouch for that.

The recent storm-driven rain, winds, waves and tidal surges have transformed the landscape, and character, of most beaches overnight.

The mouth of the Winchuck River and surrounding beach, near the Oregon/California border, is a prime example. The recent storm activity has scoured away the gentle wind-sculpted dunes and scattered driftwood, leaving behind steep drop offs, exposed rocks, giant logs and wide areas of dark, shiny pebbles.

The river itself, which once pooled at the mouth with only a shallow path trickling to the ocean, is now cutting a deep, 15-foot wide path to the sea.

The changes are just as dramatic at Lone Ranch Beach, north of Brookings. Rocks once half buried in the sand have been exposed, like teeth without gums. The wide, sandy beach is now marked with large patches of tumbled stones and piles of dislodged kelp and seaweed.

The changes are hard to ignore at Sporthaven Beach at the Port of Brookings Harbor. The tremendous surf has gouged sand away from the rock-armored parking lot, leaving large pieces of driftwood. Trying to get down to the beach without rappelling equipment is a challenge.

The ocean itself has changed. Its mood has darkened, as has its color, the result of sediment and organic material stirred up by the storms waves and strong currents. The location of cresting waves have shifted, breaking in new areas and not in the regular spots. The shifting sand has created temporary sandbars and deep holes that affect the size and shape of the waves.

Of course, all this will change with the next storm, and the one after that, and so on. And that’s the beauty of it all.

Just imagine the surprises that await your next visit to that once all-too-familiar favorite spot of yours.

~~~

Upon moving to Brookings 11 years ago, I reluctantly abandoned the habit of wearing shorts and flip flops all year long. Today, I own more raincoats than I ever have. The cupboards are filled with bottled water and canned goods in case of power outages caused by winter storms that lash the South Coast.

The storms that cause me to worry about the roof on the house staying put, or the tall pine trees possibly falling over and crushing the gazebo, are the same ones that make me giddy with excitement. I’m a weather freak! And I love living someplace where storms pummel the coast over and over all winter long.

One of my favorite diversions is wave watching at Sporthaven Beach, where the combination of large swells and high tides hurtle giant driftwood onto the beach, and sometimes the parking lot.

Often, I’ll find one or both of the U.S. Coast Guard’s two motor lifeboats practicing maneuvers off Sporthaven Beach. Over and over, the 47-foot vessels charged up and over the giant waves, much to the delight of those watching from the beach.

On any given winter day, I walk outside and spot the tell-tale signs of an approaching storm. The sky grows dark under the threatening clouds, a few drops of rain hit my face, and the wind begins to rise, whipping the spray off the backs of thundering waves.

It’s a perfect time to ditch my flip-flops, grab one of many rain jackets and head for the beach.