Country: United States
Date: September 2008
One of my students came in this morning talking about a
rogue wave that hit the QE2 ocean liner on 11.September.1995 while
cruising 200 nautical miles south of Newfoundland. It was estimated
to be 98 feet high. I have never heard of such a phenomenon, and a
quick web search only came up with sensationalist sites, not
reliable ones. What is a rogue wave, how is it formed, and are they
predictable enough to prevent damage and loss of life?
Rogue waves are indeed real and very sensational. A quick check of books on
"heavy weather sailing", "open-ocean sailing" and disasters at sea will provide
some examples and even photos. You might also search magazine data bases for
articles in magazines such as SAIL.
Rogue waves usually occur when seas are chaotic, that is when wave trains are
coming from two or more directions. This can happen when wind and currents
are at angles to each other, when waves from distant storms invade an area, or
In these cases, every so often, the individual waves add constructively to
create a far larger than normal, giant wave. Descriptions talk about giant
waves with vertical faces down which water cascades like a waterfall! Luckily,
these waves exist for a relatively short time for, as soon as the individual
wave trains forming them move on, the wave collapses. Some printed descriptions
have them collapsing over a distance of 200 yards or less.
Like tornadoes, rouge waves cannot be predicted because they are a local, short
lived phenomenon. However, like tornadoes, the conditions leading to the waves
can be predicted and monitored and mariners can be alerted to the possibility
of rogue wave formation.
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Update: June 2012