Nothing Boring About a Bore Tide!

Last week, tourists spotted grizzlies foraging along the mudflats of Turnagain Arm. Seawater drains it completely at low tide, giving the Arm the second-most tidal range in North America after the Bay of Fundy. These extreme tidal fluctuations differ as much as 41 feet, and sometimes the seawater rises as much as 7 feet per hour— a foot every 8.5 minutes— as quickly as 8 miles per hour.

During one of my trips to the local visitor center last week, I stumbled across a brochure entitled THE BORE TIDE with gloomy shadows beneath its capital letters. This spectacular natural event occurs only when the low tide is below average— and the larger its negative indicator, the better. On this particular day, June 24, the visitor center ladies were ecstatic to inform me that it was surreptitiously the month’s highest negative low tide (-4.8). They urged me to plant myself at Bird Point, where the incoming high tide surges into the Arm from Cook Inlet, slows when it encounters the barrier of mudflats, and breaks over them as the accelerating tide vigorously pushes the seawater ahead. This wave is known as the bore tide— sometimes six feet tall!

Much to my surprise, bore tides attract a cult following. Parking was unavailable 15 minutes before its 6:21 PM scheduled arrival at Bird Point, so I got back on the highway and snagged the very last spot at the next lookout. People fixed their binoculars on Bird Point, and shouted joyously when the tide finally roared across the mudflats around 6:50 PM. Before it had even passed, the most hardcore spectators jumped in their cars and raced down along the Arm to watch the tide continue over the channels of mudflats. Someone even caught the wave on a surfboard!

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