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High-surf warnings issued as Pacific swell brings big waves to California coast

Powerful and potentially destructive waves are expected to hit California’s coast through Tuesday, bringing dangerous conditions that have prompted forecasters to urge surfers and swimmers to stay out of the ocean.

A deep low-pressure center in the Gulf of Alaska and storm-forced winds are generating the Pacific swell, creating the potential for spectacularly large — and potentially dangerous — waves, said Tom Fisher, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

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“Generally speaking, stay out of the water,” said Joe Sirard, meteorologist with the weather service. “It’s just too life-threatening.”

West-facing beaches will be hit hardest, with waves in Ventura County expected to reach 8 to 12 feet, with sets up to 15 feet. In Los Angeles County, waves will be between 6 and 10 feet, with sets up to 12 feet at their peak Monday afternoon. The weather service issued a high surf advisory until 10 p.m. Tuesday.

It’s not just the high waves that can make for a dangerous beach visit, Fisher warned. The Pacific swell causes strong rip currents, which can swiftly carry swimmers out to sea.

“Inexperienced swimmers and surfers should stay out of the water, stay off rock walls and jetties and stay well back from the water’s edge,” Fisher said. “Never turn your back to the ocean.”

Boaters should be cautious too, Fisher said. Although the waves may seem calm in the harbor, large breaking waves will appear closer to harbor entrances in Morro Bay and Ventura Harbor. Small boats that come near the shore could capsize.

“We may have damage to piers and coastal structures,” Fisher said, “and we may have some beach erosion, where waves break into areas of sand and walk paths that normally don’t get it.”

Ocean Beach Pier in San Diego was closed Monday after high surf began spraying onto public areas of the pier, said Monica Munoz, a spokeswoman for the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department. As of 5 p.m., there was no damage, but the pier was still closed and would remain so until the surf quiets, she said. A couple of surfers had to be rescued from the water, she added.

The weather service warned that powerful waves are capable of sweeping people into the frigid, turbulent ocean water, and that the shock of the cold water can cause cardiac arrest.

“If people decide they want to go on the jetties and rocks, there’s very good possibility they’ll be washed off rocks,” Sirard said.

I​​​n Northern California, waves were barreling as high as 50 feet on Monday, the weather service said. Farther south, waves as high as 30 feet could strike San Luis Obispo and the Santa Barbara coast north of Point Conception. A high-surf warning is in effect in those areas until 9 a.m. Tuesday.

Northern California and west-facing beaches will experience the most intense waves because they will bear the brunt of the swell. A high-surf advisory is in effect until 9 p.m. Monday along the North Bay, Big Sur and Monterey Bay.

Despite the big waves, the World Surf League on Sunday canceled this week’s Mavericks Challenge because of less-than-optimal conditions.

“The wind is good and conditions will be clean, but the swell will be dropping through the day on Thursday and we won’t have the consistency we need to run an excellent event,” the surf league said in a statement, adding that consistent 25-foot waves are ideal.

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