West Coast
SFist -- The Virginian - Pilot

Strange, Tsunami-Like 'Tidal Event' In SF Bay Remains A Mystery

Though still unconfirmed on the cause, a bizarre oceanic event in the Bay could be a harbinger of strange things to come. What happened on January 20, 2019, in the San Francisco Bay was so rare and mysterious, that it has simply been called a "tidal event," as the Examiner reports.

When Captain David Crumpler set out that morning on "The Lovely Martha" to take 23 people on a tour around Alcatraz Island and the Golden Gate Bridge, he was unaware the day would end in saving their lives and receiving an honor so rare, it would be the first in 20 years.

As Crumpler navigated the boat into the safety of the lagoon at the west side of Pier 43, he sensed something was not right. The boat was not only beginning to slow down, but was starting to move backwards. The water levels in the lagoon were rapidly dropping, and the ensuing surge was rushing water furiously out back towards the bay. Crumpler attempted to fight the surge, but his 405-horsepower boat wasn't making any forward progress, and Crumpler feared this was the precursor to a tsunami. As he tells the Examiner, it was like a drain plug being pulled and water sucking out toward the Golden Gate.

Crumpler and his boat made it to safety in open water, and no tsunami came. But the unexplained event, which caused a rapid drop in the water level, snapped buoy lines and nearly sank the Scoma's fishing boat.

Crumpler was recently honored by the San Francisco Port Commission with a special commendation, something that hasn't been given out by the commission in two decades.

As to the cause of the tidal surge, that is still unclear. The Examiner reached out to local oceanography groups, such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association as well as the Estuary and Ocean Science Center, but neither group could confirm a cause after reviewing witness testimony and video evidence.

(For lack of actual video evidence, here's the tsunami scene from San Andreas.)


One theory is that the surge was caused after two tankers entered the Bay, which some fishermen near the pier witnessed and claimed can cause these type of events.

But the most likely of the causes may have been the January king tides that day. District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who also sits on the Coastal Commission of California, the North East Waterfront group, and the Bay Conservation and Development Commission suggests that wintertime king tides in recent years serve to show the Bay Area what the effects of rising sea levels will look like.

See SFIST Article . . .