With winds whipping up the seas and heavy rains dumping buckets upon us, the coastal communities of Grays Harbor come alive. Swaying in the gusts, giant firs and cedars stand their ground, while their deceased driftwood friends get tossed about in huge swells from the endless onslaught of stormy weather.
From October through April, the Pacific Ocean brings in band after band of inclement weather, helping define the region’s hearty and tough inhabitants. Living out here in the winter months isn’t for everyone, but for those that love storms, it is a stunning destination full of incredible adventures in wet and windy weather. While some remain indoors, warmed by their fireplaces, heaters and the glow of their TVs, others flock to the coast hoping to witness a storm firsthand. Feeling alive from the spray of the salt water and leaning into the winds, Grays Harbor allows a front row seat to fantastic winter storms.
Storms on the coast are some of the strongest seasonal storms in America. Year after year, countless numbers of visitors check the weather, grab their rain gear, and a sense of adventure, and go storm watching. Fall and winter storms can pack quite a punch with sustained winds of 60 mph often occurring, sometimes packing gusts of wind up to 80 mph that can level towering trees throughout the region. Couple strong winds with the 6-12 inches of rain that can fall in a strong storm, and you get some of the wettest and most dramatic weather events in the country each and every year.
However, we have a high standard for what we consider to be a “real” storm. For it to be considered a true storm for locals around Grays Harbor, wind gusts should reach 60 mph and the forecast should call for more than 5 inches of rain a day. Anything less and we consider it to be a typical fall/winter rainy day. Of course, before you head out into a storm, check our five tips for watching storms to make sure you are safe while enjoying a wild day on the coast. Once you have reviewed the tips, check out one of these incredible storm watching destinations.
Two of the classic and easily accessible storm watching destinations in Grays Harbor are located at the jetties at Ocean Shores and Westport. These both make for an awesome place to see the power of storm swells and winds. While climbing on the rocks is not a smart idea or recommended, sitting in your car or walking the parking lot will leave you feeling the blasts of wind, and probably a bit soaked, from the spray coming off the ocean. On the largest of storms, waves have been known to crash directly on top of the jetty in Ocean Shores, tossing driftwood over the rocks. Out in Westport, a walk in the wind through Westhaven State Park will get you into the elements in relative safety.
Another great place to watch storms is Damon Point in Ocean Shores. Exposed on all directions, winds blast the dunes while waves pound both sides of the peninsula. During high tide with a storm surge, the peninsula becomes an island, so plan accordingly. With huge waves visible in the distance, Damon Point is also a great place to beach comb after storms. Locals find agates, petrified wood and numerous floats from around the world, including the rare find of a Japanese glass float. Often, seals will be visible, as will numerous shorebirds, eagles and blue herons.
Further up the North Beach, a stop at any of the beach access points along Highway 109 will give you great vantage points to watch the waves and experience the power of the winds. Locals enjoy storms at the state parks, as well as the Wreck Creek pullout north of Moclips. From here, the power of the wind will leave your vehicle rocking back and forth, while the waves provide a steady thumping to contrast the high tones of the rain.
Finally, drive a bit north from Grays Harbor to Kalaloch Beach, world renowned for being a premiere destination for storm watching offering numerous destinations along this stretch of beach in Olympic National Park. Two spots at Kalaloch are worthy of your attention, each offering varying degrees of exposure to the elements. Families will enjoy the bluff near Kalaloch Lodge, offering a panoramic view of the crashing waves and the storm swells running up Kalaloch Creek. Offering food, drinks and warmth, this is a great place to hunker down between squalls. You could even try camping in the campground or stay indoors at the cabins at Kalaloch for a storm watching getaway weekend.
Further north along the coast, Ruby Beach is yet another perfect place to storm watch. With waves crashing against the beautiful and timeless sea stacks, the power of a Pacific storm is most impressive here. Littered with the driftwood from countless storms, the shores of Ruby Beach aren’t for the fair of heart. High tide makes this place incredibly dangerous, but during the lower tides, it is a fun place to see the power of storm swells and feel the wind blasting off the ocean.
Enjoy the storm season, Grays Harbor. Feel the wind on your face and the spray in your hair. But remember to always use caution and stay safe. You’ll want to be around for many more storm seasons to come.