Coastal weather dynamic in the winter


Heceta Beach State Park, lighthouse keepers home in the distance.

Winters on the Oregon coast can get a little wild – a delight to storm watchers. 

When Pacific storms sweep in, they often bring strong winds, giant crashing waves and heavy rainfall. But the storms pass, leaving weather that even in the winter is mild. It seldom freezes overnight on the coast, and when the strong north winds come in, summer completely disappears. On days the Willamette Valley is socked in with freezing fog, the coast is basking in sunlight with mild temperatures – as much as 10 degrees warmer than the valley. The beaches are also relatively isolated and it’s just a wonderful place and time to “physically distance” in nature for the day.

Essentially a rainforest, the coastal cliffs are especially mossy, lush and green in the winter. Shore birds occupy the bluffs and rock outcroppings. Pipers scurry along the edges of the surf feeding on tiny surf crabs. On occasion you will encounter a seal pup resting on the sand. They are federally protected, and you should not approach them. The little ones sleep soundly on a sunny beach and people sometimes think the pup might be in distress. But generally not; mom is likely not far away, often hunting for food just beyond the surf. She will no doubt return soon to retrieve her baby … and you might even see a whale.

But coastal beaches do have hazards that in winter become more dangerous. Through much of the winter the tides run higher up on the shoreline. On some beaches and tide pool areas there is less sand to walk and fewer pools to explore. An approaching winter storm coupled with a high tide can at times push ocean waves even further up the beach, even into some lower beach parking areas in what is called a “sneaker wave.” The most hazardous of surf conditions, the rush of water can easily knock a person off their feet. Sneaker waves can also float large driftwood logs. Sadly a few people in recent years have become dangerously entrapped. 

Good advice is to “never turn your back on the ocean” and stay away from floating and shifting driftwood.

And always enjoy the magnificent Oregon coast.


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