American Oceans

What Is A King Tide?

The phrase “king tide” refers to the highest predicted (or physically occurring) ocean tides that take place in one calendar year; it is not widely used nor considered a scientific term appropriate to use in a technical context. 

A very large tide nearing the coast line

With humble beginnings as an expression utilized in New Zealand, Australia and other nations of the Pacific Ocean, it used to refer to the high tides that occur a couple of times across those regions, annually – kind of like a predictable pattern.

Now having made its way over to North America, it’s especially well-used in South Florida, a low lying part of the state where king tides occur and can lead to tidal flooding on particularly sunny days.

King tides are natural and can therefore be preempted; they tend to happen during new and full moons most often, as this is when the Earth, Sun and Moon are all aligned (at perigee and perihelion – the time at which the Earth circles closest to the moon and sun respectively) which results in the largest possible tidal ranges.

Wollongong lighthouse during high tide

They can cause local flooding in coastal areas, and because average daily water levels continue to rise as the oceans do, these high tides can reach further and extend higher than ever before.

As a result, scientists are using them as a preview to predict how general rising levels 

What is the difference between a spring tide and a king tide?

There isn’t one! A king tide is actually a type of spring tide, confusingly enough. So, a spring tide refers to when a tide’s range is at its maximum, a result of the Sun, Moon and Earth forming a line that creates additional tidal force.

It isn’t named after the season of the year, but rather the word spring itself, which means to “jump, burst forth and rise” in the same way that a naturally occuring spring of water might do.

As such, spring tides result in higher water levels than average, as well as lower water levels than average, a stronger tidal current and even shorter “slack water” periods, which refers to the time at which a body of water is not moving at all.

So, the only difference (sort of) between a spring tide and a king tide is that a king tide is an especially large spring tide, so big that it deserves its own name!

King Tide Under Highway 101 in San Rafael

Where spring tides occur fairly regularly, a couple of times a month at least, king tides only really happen during certain times in the year.

How often do you get a king tide?

In coastal areas, it is normal for king tides to occur at least once or twice every year, during a new or full moon.

moonstone beach after high tide

In the United States, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is in charge of predicting when the next king tides are due to take place.

They can be predicted because they occur at a specific time: namely when the orbits of the Earth, and its alignment in conjunction with the moon and sun, are all combined to create the biggest possible effects on the tide.

Not only are they gaining more attention in the media because of the damage they can cause, global warming and rising sea levels mean that king tides are happening more commonly than ever, which can cause flooding in coastal cities as well as a wealth of other issues.

Why is it called a king tide?

Probably because kings are considered the rulers of all who they preside over, and “king” tides are the highest of all of the “spring” tides.

Essentially, it refers to the fact that they are the largest recorded tides in that given year, earning them the title and an imaginary crown for that accolade.

As it’s a colloquial term that originates in New Zealand, there’s no actual reason or rhyme to the name – just something that was made up to describe the natural phenomenon, nothing to particularly read into other than its surface meaning!

Are king tides good for fishing?

Well, that depends on what kind of fishing you want to do and where! 

Flooded streets of a residential neighborhood in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, as seen on the morning after Hurricane Irma comes through the city.

As there’s more water movement than would usually occur during a regular tide, when king tides take place you can find more weeds in your water and a shoreline with added debris, seeing as everything is easier to churn up.

This isn’t particularly bad for fishing generally, it just makes things more difficult in terms of being able to see what you’re doing.

If it’s hard for you to see into the water, it’s also going to be difficult for fish to move towards or against the current of peak tide, so you might struggle to find anything because all of the fish have moved away.

king tide at shore acres

However, you can also note that a high tide is said to bring baitfish forward and make them easier to catch, particularly if you manage to avoid any seaweed.

Especially as the water will also be at those cold winter temperatures during king tide, it provides a decent opportunity for catching halibut, perch and other fish who dwell in chilly waters.

How can we prevent king tides?

Unfortunately, it’s not really possible! The tides are controlled by the movement of the Earth in accordance with the moon and the sun, so it’s very difficult to be able to control that – however, what you can do is prepare for a king tide and then protect yourself and your loved ones in the midst of or after one.

King Tide Wave Cape Disappointment

Preparation for a king tide can include the following:

  • Ensure you have a plan in place for relocating any vehicles to higher ground if necessary, before the king tide occurs
  • Thoroughly examine the elevation around your home and local area, being sure to find alternative driving paths in the event a king tide blocks your usual route with flooding
  • Make a flooding evacuation or safety plan and prep your family, friends and coworkers on what it is, so everybody is prepared
  • Check out your existing insurance policy in terms of flooding and make sure it is sufficient to protect you and your property, or think about purchasing flood insurance if you don’t have it already
  • Obtain an elevation certificate for your property, though these can only be issued by a licensed surveyor
  • Remove any waste carts, trash cans and recycling bins away from the curb and inside a garage or shed if necessary, as soon as you know a king tide is incoming
  • Have a stockpile of sandbags at your property

Looking after yourself and your loved ones during or after a king tide involves:

  • Avoiding flood water, which means trying not to walk through it if possible; not only is it a health risk, it could also put you in physical danger
  • Never drive through flood waters unless incredibly necessary, as it is highly dangerous and may ruin your vehicle
  • Wash your hands, clothes and pets ASAP if you come into contact with flood water
  • During king tides, be sure to keep an eye on your waste disposal bins – if you’re likely to be impacted by flooding, you might want to store them securely before the king tide takes place

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