Rogue waves hit marina and wash cars off dock

Published: 03/01/2013

by Lucy Chabot Reed



Marinas in Italy hit by a series of rogue waves on Wednesday (January 23).


A series of rogue waves breached the seawall at Portosole in Sanremo, Italy, on Jan. 23, crushing cars and washing vehicles and people across the docks and into the marina.


The notorious southerly swells mixed with a building gale offshore and generated onshore waves that reached 8 feet (2.5m). While rogue waves were reported as far south as Cannes, it is believed the brunt of the waves hit Sanremo.

The waves pounded several cars parked on the dock, crushing some of them and washing at least two into the marina. One crew member was taken to the hospital when his leg was pinned between one yacht’s swim platform and a car getting washed off the dock. He returned to the marina a few hours later with minor injuries.


Another man was treated for non-life-threatening injuries after he was washed off the dock while atop his motorcycle.


“Everyone was OK, shaken but OK,” said Capt. David Finnigan of M/Y Australis, a 48m Oceanfast docked stern-to on the seawall.


His yacht’s closed circuit security cameras captured the scene of the motorcyclist being washed off the dock, as well as waves dumping his agent’s car in the marina and pushing the yacht’s rental car into its passerelle. The roof of his engineer’s new BMW crushed by waves and he and Capt. Finnigan suffered cuts to their hands from broken glass as they rushed to move the cars between waves.


Emergency vehicles responding to the scene were also pushed around by waves, he said.


Several videos of the incident have have been posted online. On YouTube, search for “Tsunami wave runners” and “Rogue wave in Italy.” The latter is from Australis.


“We had no warning on any of our weather services,” said First Mate Sue Mitchell of M/Y Aquilibrium, a 131-foot (40m) CRN that was in the Cantiere Navale Riviera shipyard beside the marina. “There was no wind. It had been raining and it was overcast, but nothing to signify that we’d get that kind of weather.”


Swells picked up about 3:30 in the afternoon on that Wednesday with the first wave crashing over the seawall about 4 p.m. Bad weather and waves continued until after 9 p.m., she said.


The weather event was the result of a low pressure system colliding with a growing wave. According to Mark Neiswender, director of yacht operations and senior meteorologist with Weather Routing, yachts and marinas exposed to the south and southeast most likely encountered damaging conditions.


“The low developed near the Balearics along a cold front the night of Jan. 22 and moved northeastward through the southern Gulf of Lion by morning of the 23rd, while rapidly deepening into a gale,” Neiswender said, noting that the low reached about 990mb, not the 900mb (tropical storm status) as some crew onsite thought.


“The track and strength of this system generated a south-to-southeast fetch of swell to impact the Cote d'Azur, and then as the system continued to strengthen and turn east-southeastward toward the Strait of Bonifacio later on the 23rd, the seas became confused with a mixing northeasterly wave for offshore waters of the Italian and French rivieras.


“A buoy observation early that afternoon on the 23rd reported 4.8m seas in the southern Gulf of Lion with winds near gale force. At the same time, another buoy offshore the Cote d'Azur reported seas at 2.5m.


“Generally, when the seas become mixed and confused like this, they can generate a wave spike that results into a building rogue wave, which was likely the case in this situation,” Neiswender said. “For this time of year, these southerly swells are common, as cold fronts are stronger and farther south in the Western Mediterranean, allowing for secondary (Genoa) lows / gales to develop, which produce this fetch.”


During the winter season, it is ordinary to have one-to-three stronger storms tracks per season.


“The most abnormal thing about this event,” he said, “was that this was a slower moving gale then usual, which allowed more time for the north to northeasterly winds offshore Northwestern Italy to generate a northeast fetch, to then mix in with the southerly swells.”


Capt. Finnigan wrote the experience off as an anomaly, though it underscored the reality of how dangerous yachting can be, even at the dock.


“On the yacht, sitting here, we were OK, but things moving on the dock and getting pushed around was dangerous,” he said. “If one of my crew was walking on the dock or when I was moving the car, in that time, who’s to say another wave wouldn’t come?


“It was a freak of nature sort of thing; I don’t expect it to happen again,” he said. “But who can tell what the weather is going to do these days?”


Mitchell, who has spent the past three years in the area, said she’s not seen it that bad before.
“Everyone should know, be aware, be forewarned and prepare for bad weather events in safe havens like marinas,” she said. “Speaking with other captains that have been here over the years and have experienced similar weather events tell me that the south westerly swells caused by weather conditions near Corsica are by far the most dangerous and should be carefully monitored.


“We all know about the fury of a mistral; everyone should also be aware of the fury of the south westerly swells,” she said. “We’re just fortunate we didn’t have much damage.”

Lucy Chabot Reed is editor of The Triton. Comments on this story are welcome at lucy@the-triton.com.



Weather analysis:

The bad weather that hit Sanremo, Italy, late January was the result of a low pressure system colliding with a growing wave, causing a series of rogue waves that crashed over seawalls and washed several vehicles and at least one person into marina waters.


According to Mark Neiswender, director of yacht operations and senior meteorologist with Weather Routing, yachts and marinas exposed to the south and southeast most likely encountered damaging conditions. While rogue waves were reported as far south as Cannes, it is believed the brunt of the waves hit Sanremo.


“The low developed near the Balearics along a cold front the night of Jan. 22 and moved northeastward through the southern Gulf of Lion by morning of the 23rd, while rapidly deepening into a gale,” Neiswender said, noting that the low only reached about 990mb, not the 900mb (tropical storm status) as some crew onsite thought.


“The track and strength of this system generated a south-to-southeast fetch of swell to impact the Cote d'Azur, and then as the system continued to strengthen and turn east-southeastward toward the Strait of Bonifacio later on the 23rd, the seas became confused with a mixing northeasterly wave for offshore waters of the Italian and French rivieras.


“A buoy observation early that afternoon on the 23rd reported 4.8m seas in the southern Gulf of Lion with winds near gale force. At the same time, another buoy offshore the Cote d'Azur reported seas at 2.5m.


“Generally, when the seas become mixed and confused like this, they can generate a wave spike that results into a building rogue wave, which was likely the case in this situation.


“For this time of year, these southerly swells are common, as cold fronts are stronger and farther south in the Western Mediterranean, allowing for secondary (Genoa) lows / gales to develop, which produce this fetch,” Neiswender said. “During the winter season it is ordinary to have one-to-three stronger storms tracks per season.


“The most abnormal thing about this event,” he said, “was that this was a slower moving gale then usual, which allowed more time for the north to northeasterly winds offshore Northwestern Italy to generate a northeast fetch, to then mix in with the southerly swells.”

 

Original post:

Portosole in Sanremo, Italy, and other marinas as far as Cannes were hit by a series of rogue waves on Wednesday (January 23) that crushed cars parked on the dock. It is believed one crew member was taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.


Swells picked up about 3:30 in the afternoon with the first wave crashing over the sea wall about 4 p.m. without warning or alert from weather monitoring systems, said First Mate Sue Mitchell of M/Y Aquilibrium, which is in the nearby Cantiere Navale Riviera shipyard in Sanremo. Bad weather continued until after 9 p.m., she said.


The waves crushed the tops of cars, washing at least one into the marina. Emergency vehicles responding to the scene were also pushed around by waves, according to a captain in the marina.


Large waves had been seen in the area rarely, perhaps once a decade, but have become more frequent. The previous one was about four years ago when the wall at Portosole marina was washed out, Mitchell said.


She said the pressure had gotten down to 900mb.


Click for for video here.