Southern California's beachfront was battered by surf that rose to 12 feet in some places Monday while meteorologists warned surf-anglers, swimmers and boaters that they could be in danger until the waves--which may already have claimed one life--finally subside today or Wednesday.
"It is extremely dangerous to fish or observe waves from exposed coastal structures or rocks when the surf is this heavy," National Weather Service spokeswoman Frankie Shaw said. "Swimming or surfing in these waves is also dangerous, not just because of their size but also because of riptides."
Shaw said the waves were generated by a storm that stirred up the Pacific 3,000 miles west of Los Angeles late last week. They began arriving in coastal waters Sunday and demonstrated their deadliness almost at once.
An 11-foot boat that put out before dawn from Channel Islands Harbor was swamped, dumping two men and a woman into the water. The men were rescued Sunday after more than 10 hours in the water. But the woman, identified as Colleen Halstrom, 23, of Oxnard, was swept away in the darkness.
A search by Coast Guard air and surface units was suspended Monday, and Lt. Dennis Fahr said it will not be resumed.
"We are not hopeful of finding her," he said. "Her companions said she was not a good swimmer, and at this time, we are not even sure that she was wearing a life jacket."
Small-craft advisories continued in effect Monday for coastal waters from Point Conception to Santa Rosa Island, and residents of west-facing beach areas were warned that danger will reach its peak with the high tide due at 7:40 a.m. today.
Orange County beaches, most of which face south or southwest, were spared the brunt of the distant storm's attack. Lifeguards at Huntington Beach and Newport Beach reported surf in the 2- to 4-foot range, with an occasional 5- or 6-foot wave rolling in.
Forecasters at the weather service and at Earth Environment Service, a private weather service based in San Francisco, agreed that the surf should be starting to subside late today and that a strong flow of cooler air from the north should put at least a temporary end to the Southland's unseasonably warm temperatures during the next day or two.
High Monday in Santa Ana was 80, but the weather service said it should be at least 8 degrees cooler today. Earth Environment Service spokesman Cary Schudy said it might be even cooler.
"If it gets as warm as 72 degrees Tuesday," he said, "it would be doing very well, because the skies are due to be pretty cloudy for a while, though there is a chance that the warm northeast winds could start again late in the week."