Run of big swell kicks off new year; big rain expected to drench area next week

Big waves
Offshore winds blow the top off a Steamer Lane left on the afternoon of Dec. 31, 2020.
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)

This weekend’s precipitation is expected to be light, but the risk of flooding and debris flow increases Tuesday into Wednesday, forecasters say.

Mother Nature is making her presence felt immediately in Santa Cruz in 2021, first in the ocean and then from the sky.

As our Kevin Painchaud’s photos from Steamer Lane on Thursday show, the ocean was already full of New Year’s life on the final day of 2020 as a solid northwest swell brought 8-10-foot waves to Steamer Lane and other prominent breaks throughout town.

The combination of light offshore winds, solid swell and bright sunshine made for epic surfing and surf photography conditions (more of Kevin’s fine captures below).

That swell will be followed by an even larger blast off the Gulf of Alaska that will fill in Saturday. The National Weather Service has a high-surf advisory in effect through 3 a.m. Friday and you can expect another to be initiated by late Friday. Given the number of water rescues the area has seen in recent weeks, here’s the weather service’s advice:

A very long period WNW swell train continues to impact the coastline. The primary hazard will be large breaking waves of up to roughly 20 feet at west and northwest facing beaches. A High Surf Advisory remains in effect through tonight for these large breaking waves. Cold water drownings occur each year with these type of events but are completely avoidable by remaining a safe distance from the coastline. If you must visit the coastline, avoid venturing out on coastal rocks, outcroppings, jetties, etc, and remain extremely vigilant of your surroundings at all times.

There will be light rain Friday night but nothing significant in the forecast. A second system that will arrive Sunday night into Monday is also trending weaker and should only produce light rain but could cause slick roads. A quarter-inch to three-quarters inches of precipitation is predicted for the Santa Cruz Mountains.

A system projected to fall south into the Bay Area on Tuesday and Wednesday, however, could be more significant and increase flood risk. It also has the potential to “impact the burn scars” from last year’s wildfires, according to the NWS, which considers it a “slight debris flow concern.”

As the first rains since mid-November fall, it’s not a bad time to run down the precautionary measures for staying safe...

PHOTOS: Big waves at Steamer Lane Thursday

Steamer Lane
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)
Steamer Lane
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)
Steamer Lane
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)
Steamer Lane
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)
Steamer Lane
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)
Steamer Lane
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)
Steamer Lane
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)
Steamer Lane
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)
Steamer Lane
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)