Wave crashing against the shore in Lowbanks, Ontario, as alake effect pushes Lake Erie ashore.

IOTW: Seiche

A Seiche (pronounced “Saysh”) is a standing oscillating wave in a body of water. Imagine dropping a bowling ball into a full bath. I’m not sure why you would do that, but if you did, the ripples would reach the edge and bounce back. And when they reach the other side, they would bounce again. And so on. Or imagine blowing across a hot cup of coffee. The coffee dips where your lips blow, ripples reach the rim and bounce back. Ripples continue until the coffee reaches equilibirum. That’s a seiche.

Those are my terrible attempt at analogies. According to the official National Weather Service web site…

“Seiches are typically caused when strong winds and rapid changes in atmospheric pressure push water from one end of a body of water to the other. When the wind stops, the water rebounds to the other side of the enclosed area. The water then continues to oscillate back and forth for hours or even days. In a similar fashion, earthquakes, tsunamis, or severe storm fronts may also cause seiches along ocean shelves and ocean harbors.”

Lake Erie is famous for seiches. The largest on record occured in 1844 when a 22 foot seiche breached a 14 foot high sea wall resulting in the deaths of 78 people. Conversely, the waterline drops proportionally at the other end, while all that water is elsewhere. Beachcombers walk on the sand and rock revealed, collecting all kinds of previously hidden debris and detritus as they explore and walk on what only hours before had been a lake bed. And then the wave bounces. Hopefully, after they return to land.

Jan 2024 Seiche

Weather advisories were issued on Jan 13th, 2024, alerting residents of an imminent wind storm coming from the South West, which was expected to cause a seiche affecting the North East shorelines of Lake Erie. That happens to be where I live.

Suitably attired and ready to explore I drove the coast road for several hours that morning taking photographs and enjoying the extreme weather. Horizontal freezing rain aside, the wind on this day was nowhere near as bad as 1844, though still very strong and persistent. The waves pounded the shoreline for half a day. I came away with 182 photos. And while I am still uncertain of which one is my favourite, this one is likely to stay on the short list.

The wave hits the concrete barrier and spray leaps 20 feet or more. This barrier, on a normal day, does not even get wet. A rocky beach in front of it plays home to collectors, searching for pebbles and driftwood and shells without even getting their shoes wet. Not today. Today, that concrete barrier earned it’s keep.


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