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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center

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Guam Residents Warned Over Dangerous Ocean Conditions
Authorities estimate fifteen-foot waves, high winds

By Brett Kelman

HAGTA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Jan. 22, 2013) – The worst of gale-force winds, high surf and hazardous seas should have passed Guam by today, but potentially dangerous conditions will linger until tomorrow.

The National Weather Service issued a high-surf advisory and a small craft advisory that are expected to last until 6 a.m., Wednesday.

The advisories mean that swimmers and boaters should be wary of powerful waves, and consider avoiding the water altogether, according to the Weather Service.

However, conditions were more severe yesterday, when the Weather Service issued three separate weather warnings. A warning is more serious than an advisory.

"Even in the typhoons, I've never seen it get like this," said Father George Maddock, who has lived on Guam since 1965. He stood on a shoreline in Asan yesterday afternoon, watching waves crash against the rocks, spraying seawater high overhead.

Maddock said he had spotted the surf from the St. Fidelis Friary in Agana Heights, so he drove to Asan Beach park for a closer look. So did dozens of other residents, who swung by the national park to watch the waves roll in during high tide.

"It's pretty spectacular watching them crash on the rocks," said Erin Wigman, who stood under a palm tree, holding her 3-year-old son, Josiah. She said the boy wanted to watch a kite boarder, who dared to carve between the waves off the coast.

The Weather Service yesterday issued a gale wind warning, a high surf warning and a hazardous seas warning -- all of which are expected to remain in effect until 5 a.m. today.

This rough weather can all be traced back to a large cold front, which stretches halfway across the Pacific Ocean, said meteorologist Derek Williams.

"A large low-pressure area formed off of Japan, and that gets things spinning," Williams said. "Usually, with a mid-latitude system... it will bring down that colder air, and the stronger the low-pressure system, the stronger the winds, so the greater the chance of it coming down here."

The gale warning means frequent gusts of 40 to 55 mph. Winds like that can create difficult conditions for small boats or large vehicles, the Weather Service states.

The hazardous seas warning means that meteorologists expected waves of at least 15 feet or larger. Recreational boaters were advised not to leave the port, and commercial vessels were told to prepare for rough seas.

Finally, the high surf warning stated that "dangerous, battering waves" would pound local shorelines, creating "very dangerous swimming conditions and deadly rip currents," according to the Weather Service.

The impact of these waves was most visible at the Asan Beach portion of the War in the Pacific National Historical Park.

In recent days, the waves have reached into the parking lot at the beach park, shoving and rolling the heavy concrete parking barriers. The waves left sand, rocks and other debris littering the sidewalks and asphalt.

The waves uprooted the barriers on either Thursday night or Friday morning, said Jennifer Stocker, an amateur photographer from Santa Rita.

Stocker said she has visited Asan Beach several times in recent days to photograph crashing waves. She first noticed the powerful surf on Thursday, then saw the parking lot in shambles on Friday. Yesterday, Stocker was at the beach again, snapping more photos.

"I've never seen waves like these here on Guam," said Stocker, who has lived on the island for three years.

According to a video released by War in the Pacific park, flooding in the parking lot is an annual issue for the Asan Beach park because this "low-lying, north-facing" shoreline is "especially vulnerable to ocean over-wash."

The rough weather also may have contributed to a distressed swimmer in Tumon. The swimmer was rescued by staff at the Hotel Nikko Guam.

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