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Surf’s Up and So Is the Chance of Flooding

Times Staff Writer

It’s the kind of weather forecast surfers love: big waves and no rain to ruin the fun.

Even as work crews in coastal Orange County cities began bracing for another round of flooding and erosion, thanks to a powerful storm off Alaska, local surfers were making plans to take advantage of the biggest surf of a dismal winter.

Forecasters say to expect consistent 5- to 8-foot waves and occasional breakers of 10 feet or larger.

“Pretty much every popular surfing break in Southern California will catch this swell,” said Chris Borg, chief meteorologist for Huntington Beach-based SurfLine, which forecasts waves.

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Since the rains began in October, many surfboards have been gathering dust in garages because sewage spills and urban runoff have made it unhealthy to enter ocean waters.

Health officials recommend staying out of the water for at least three days after a storm. But this year’s record rainfall has kept millions of gallons of urban runoff rushing downriver from upstream communities days after a storm has ended.

“We just posted a warning about high bacteria in a large area around the mouth of the Santa Ana River,” said Monica Mazur, a supervising environmental health specialist for Orange County.

Kyle Killam, 19, of Huntington Beach said winter had been marked by far more bad surf days than good ones, so he’s been doing a lot of snowboarding as a consolation.

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But when he heard about the huge surf expected today, Killam and his surfing companion, Shane Steelman, also 19 and of Huntington Beach, knew just where to go.

“I usually surf every day, but I haven’t for about a month because of the weather,” said Steelman, drying off after a noon surf session at Huntington State Beach. “But we’ll be here surfing” today.

Not everyone, however, is welcoming the big surf. Crews in coastal cities made preparations Wednesday in anticipation of any flooding and erosion that might occur because of the large waves and a high tide of more than 6 feet expected about 9 a.m.

In San Clemente, where winter storms have eroded about a third of the beach, city crews pulled back lifeguard towers, picnic benches and fire rings.

“We have to take these precautionary measures because you don’t want to be moving that stuff in the middle of a high tide and moving water,” said Richard Chew, a supervising lifeguard.

A high tide reduces the height of the waves as they break on the shore, but Borg said that this swell would have plenty of punch, which could push ocean water onto the beach and over protective berms.

In Seal Beach, workers strengthened berms and initiated a reverse 911 system that provides a telephone message warning of the flood threat to residents in flood-prone areas, including Seal Way and Surfside, said Lifeguard Capt. Ross Pounds.

“We also posted fliers that warn residents to get their valuables up off the floor and to gather any necessary overnight items if it’s necessary to evacuate,” he said.

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The storm that is generating the large waves originated south of the Aleutian Islands off Alaska. The waves won’t stay around long, however. Borg said the swell was expected to drop considerably by Friday and fade through the weekend.

Still, that short window was enough to make the expected waves a hot topic among surfers.

Richard Grunburg, 33, a salesman for an Orange County firm, arrived at Huntington State Beach with his cellphone to his ear and a surfboard strapped to his car.

“I just haven’t had time to surf as much this year, and that’s partly because of the weather and work obligations,” he said.

“But I’ll be here Thursday.”


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