"The Sea Is Angry"

"The Sea Is Angry"

Oceans have always stirred to the passage of the wind. Storms cause immense waves at sea. To the mariner this is a time when "the sea is angry."

Despite the fury at sea, it is around the shorelines that storm waves cause the most destruction. Thundering breakers may shatter buildings, engulf lighthouses, and destroy the most massive shoreline installations as if they were nothing but miniature models. The force of a wave during a winter gale may be as much as 6,000 pounds to the square foot.

Consider the events at the breakwater near Wick, on the northeastern tip of Scotland, in 1872. Storm waves tore loose a concrete pier and moved the entire structure, weighing more than 1,350 tones (2.7 million pounds), inland. And this was a mere dress rehearsal; the new pier, which weighed well over 2,600 tons, suffered the same fate five years later. It was as though the sea was playing with a new toy.

Lighthouse keepers, exposed to the full length of the surf during a storm, witness happenings so unusual that they appear to border on the supernatural.

One such incident occurred in 1840 during a heavy storm, when the heavily bolted door of the Eddystone Lighthouse in England was broken from within, and all its iron bolts and hinges were torn loose. Scientists attribute such an event to pneumatic action. This is created by the sudden backdraft when a heavy wave recedes, combined with an abrupt release of pressure on the outside of the door. Such forces undoubtedly broke the entrance door of the Eddystone Lighthouse, but to the keeper they must have appeared beyond belief, perhaps even supernatural.

Early in this century the keeper of the Trinidad Head Lighthouse on the coast of Oregon observed a gigantic wave rise as a solid wall of water, breaking over the top of the 196—foot—high tower. The shock of the blow caused the light to stop revolving.

Along rocky shores storm waves are often armed with rock fragments. The windows of a lighthouse on the summit of a 300—foot cliff at Pentland Firth, Scotland, are repeatedly broken by wave—tossed rocks. Once a rock weighing 135 pounds was hurled over a lighthouse one hundred feet above sea level. In falling it tore a twenty—foot hole in the roof.

As one might expect, most deaths during hurricanes are caused by violent storm waves. The most severe destruction by storm waves ever recorded took place in the Bay of Bengal on October 7, 1937. More than 300,000 people were killed, and well over 20,000 boats were destroyed.

From the book: 
Our Fascinating Earth