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King tides arrive on San Diego coastline

Nicholas McVicker
An aerial view of the King Tides near Bird Rock and La Jolla, Dec. 4, 2017.

King tides are coming to San Diego’s coastline, bringing an unusually high tide at 8:08 a.m. Friday and 8:54 a.m. Saturday, according to the National Weather Service. But, this year, the tides are only expected to produce minor flooding at some beach parking lots and boardwalks.

King tides typically happen with a new moon when the Earth and the moon are closest together, increasing gravitational pull. That means a high tide of 7 feet, while high tides are usually about 4 to 5 feet.

San Diego lifeguards and coastal officials are not expecting high surf this weekend. So flooding will likely be seen only in low-lying beach parking lots, if there.

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But Imperial Beach Mayor Paloma Aguirre said floods could be serious if conditions were right. Conditions were right back in 2019.

“We had a king tide, we had a major storm, and we had strong wind and a strong swell. And especially the direction of the swell was such that it was hitting us full on,” Aguirre said. “So we had major flooding in the low-lying coastal areas of Imperial Beach.”

She said the wave swells that year flooded garages and living rooms in Imperial Beach. Aguirre added that king tides are a reminder of what can happen with rising sea levels caused by climate change, when the flooding will get worse.

“Imperial Beach is surrounded by water. We are surrounded by the (Tijuana River) Estuary to the south, the Pacific Ocean to the west and San Diego Bay to the north,” she said. “That’s why it’s so important to me and to all of us in the community to be proactive about research being done on sea-level rise and for us to find ways to mitigate climate change because it is a very real threat for us.”

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King tides mean not just a very high tide, but also very low tides. On Friday and Saturday afternoons, the water will recede to low tides of -1.8 feet, so people can expect a very large walking beach.

“You can see where the high tide line was and when it recedes down to the low tide, marvel at that distance. That is a very, very large tide swing,” said San Diego Lifeguard Lt. Lonnie Stephens.

King tides occur at least twice a year. The National Weather Service is predicting another king tide for San Diego in the latter part of January.

Corrected: December 23, 2022 at 8:56 AM PST
Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that king tides happen once or twice a year. It's been updated to indicate they happen at least twice a year.