Tropical Storm Ernesto Delivers
just what the surfers ordered!
August 31, 2006 - Tropical Depression Ernesto left the Florida mainland Wednesday, and like a pent up post pubescent teenager, quickly regained its stamina over the warm Atlantic waters. Ernesto was officially declared Tropical Storm Ernesto around 11 o’clock that night.
About the same time, the beaches east of Jacksonville experienced the first band of Ernesto, rapidly moving cumulus clouds accompanied by thunderous booms and bright flashes, winds around 25 mph and brief but torrential downpours. The bands continued racing onshore intermittently throughout the night and by morning it was over. Or was it?
The eye of Tropical Storm Ernesto had actually passed well offshore of North Florida, continuously gathering strength and churning up the waters as it made its way to landfall in the Carolinas.
Weather wise, the storm was no big deal in the North Florida Beaches area, and most people slept through it with little incident. But there were those who retired that evening with tense anticipation of what was to come the next day. As Ernesto passed offshore and north east winds turned to south west winds, a phenomenon typical of cyclonic storms occurred in the area.
As the waves generated by a passing storm pound the shore with the fierce power of a nor'easter, they can at times be huge, but are generally sloppy, poorly formed mush. These waves, backed by the winds from the east, can last as long as the storm is out there churning up the waters.
If the storm is paralleling the coast, and is close enough that it is effecting our wind direction, once it passes and is to the north, the winds will shift, coming out of the west.
Those big fat waves that were once pounding our beach are now standing up proud, spitting back foam from their tips with the blusterous wind hollowing out their faces - preventing the waves from breaking until they can no longer hold back, finally curling down in a thunderous crash of white, foamy water peeling off left and right.
The chop is gone, and the surrounding water is as smooth as a baby's butt. The water can look as calm as a lake, only to be heaved up by sets of incoming swells standing at attention until finally bursting at the seams at the last possible moment.
East Coast Surf is entirely dependent on storms that brew offshore in the Atlantic, producing swells that eventually travel to the coastline. From a surfer’s point of view, the conditions accompanying a storm like Ernesto is as good as it gets in North East Florida. But you better be there on time, because it only lasts a few tide cycles.
And that's the downside. This west wind is so good at cleaning up the surf, that over time it totally knocks the waves down, and they keep getting smaller as long as the west wind lasts. In an absence of anything creating waves in the Atlantic, the surf can diminish to less than 6 inches. Not an uncommon occurrence in Jax Beach or the entire east coast for that matter.
Due to the geography of the coastline in north Florida, we seldom get a direct hit from hurricanes or tropical storms. This is not to say that we won't, and if we do, it will no doubt be disastrous. We do however get a lot of storms passing by, and some very close calls. Floyd is one that comes into mind that skirted our coast on its way to wreak devastation further north. The surfing community here has come to know what to look for, and with an excellent bottom that is in place at the Jacksonville Beach Pier, they also know where to go.
Tropical Storm Ernesto was small by any
comparison and did not spend a lot of time off our shore generating waves. But
every surfer knows that when the right circumstances converge, and all the conditions
are met, there is a real potential for some very fun, if not huge surfing opportunities.
In this case, the little tropical storm called Ernesto delivered!