Storm surf
Double surf
Double surf [2:00 · download]

 

Note: This recording only makes sense when played through a sound system with good bass response. You won’t hear much through laptop speakers or earbuds!

Last week a tremendous winter storm crossed the country, dumping millions of tons of snow across the central US. When it arrived here in coastal Maine on December 13, it brought heavy rain and wind gusts in excess of 60 mph. The ocean and the coast took a heavy beating: at the height of the storm, oceanographic buoys in the Gulf of Maine recorded waves over 25 feet in height.

I made this recording in the evening, about 24 hours after the peak of the storm. The sky was clear, the air breathlessly still. At this sheltered rocky beach in Pigeon Hill Bay, small waves rippled gently ashore. It would have been a peaceful scene, but for an ominous chest-pounding roar that filled the air, like the roar of a jet aircraft powered up and holding for takeoff. This was the storm’s parting message, telegraphed in ten-foot-tall ocean waves crashing against the tip of Petit Manan Peninsula, some four miles away.

What astonishes me in listening to that distant heavy surf is how constant, unrelenting, and huge it is. The foreground sound of fair-weather ankle-high waves lapping gently on the beach all sounds very familiar to me. In warmer weather I might kick off my shoes and let these waves spill across my shins. I can grasp their scale. But that distant roar seems to come from another world entirely. I can’t begin to imagine the power they contain. What a staggering amount of energy this one storm must have unleashed into the ocean and the atmosphere!

20101217_storm_surf

Ocean waves in the Gulf of Maine in the evening of December 14, 2010, when this audio recording was made. Arrows show wave direction. Wave height (colored scale) is in meters. The red dot marks the approximate site of this recording. (Data and base image courtesy of Gulf of Maine Ocean Observing System.)