King Tides Explained

Image courtesy of NOAA.

Image courtesy of NOAA.

King Tides are here again. Sunday December 21st, starts a 3-day period of really high and low tides. “King Tide” has become a popular term recently to explain an especially high tide. It is not a scientifically meaningful term and originated in Australia and New Zealand and was a reference to the high tides that occur around Christmas.

The sizes of our tides change in a repeating and predictable way due to the interplay between the angles, distances and positions of the earth, sun and moon. The suns influence is about half that of the moon. Spring tides occur during new and full moons when the earth, moon, and sun are in alignment.

The largest spring tides of the year occur when all influencing factors combine to form “the perfect storm of tides.” First, the earth, sun and moon are as close to each other as possible: the moon at perigee and the earth at perihelion. Second, the three bodies are aligned and as it happens are in the position of a new moon. Sunday and Monday are the peak of the spring tides and Sunday is the new moon!

There is an organization called the California King Tides Initiative that is using King Tides to raise awareness of flooding and sea-level rise. The idea is that by observing the affects of super high tides, especially if they occur during winter storms, people can wrap their heads around what will be in store for us as sea level rises with climate change. It’s also an opportunity for citizens to help document the changes to our coast. Check out some photos people have submitted to their California King Tides Photo Initiative Pool.

More King Tides

This month’s King Tides are the first of three sets. They will also occur January 19-21, and February 17-19, 2015.

King (High) Tide Timing

December 21st 8:58 am +6.5
December 22nd 9:41 am +6.5
December 23rd 10:26 am +6.1

Associated Low Tide Timing

December 21st 4:20 pm -1.0
December 22nd 5:02 pm -1.1
December 23rd 5:45 pm -1.1

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Julia Gaudinski


One comment on “King Tides Explained


  1. This is all very interesting, however, we apparently are experiencing a series of king tides but it’s Oct 18/19th, 2015.
    So apparently times of the year, assuming the happen annually change every year?
    would be nice if this article was expanding upon a bit to more broadly cover the subject and not be date specific.


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