Every so often, when the conditions are just right, this spectacular sight happens at Cleveleys, usually several times each year. It can vary from a few blobs, to a quivering mass several feet deep…
Friday 13th November, 2015
An apt day for the foam to fly at Cleveleys! This was caused by the winds at the back end of the UKs first named weather event, Storm Abigail. While the northern parts of the UK and Scotland bore the worst brunt of Abigail as she passed through, it certainly made for windy conditions here in Cleveleys and on the wider Fylde Coast.
High tide was around noon, and by 11.30am when this video was taken it was already several feet deep.
Conditions carried on until well into the afternoon when the foam eventually collapsed. This second clip (below) was taken at about 1.30pm, a good hour and a half after high tide.
Decaying algae in the water acts like a gel and holds the air bubbles in shape as they are blown up by the action of the wind and strong waves. The foam gets thick and because it’s light it blows like snowballs and masses on the paths, promenade and road. It’s quite a sight, and on Friday 13th made most of the national news and weather channels, including the national BBC News at 6pm.
What Causes the Foam?
The foam is caused by the agitation of seawater which contains dissolved organic matter (which includes algal matter).
Under normal conditions this can be seen as low levels of foam/scum on the shore. However the level of nutrients will have been exacerbated with more coming from inland and storm overflows as they reach capacity with the recent large rainfall events.
The increased levels of nutrients, together with storm conditions is the main cause for the excessive foaming. The nutrients act as a foaming agent and under turbulent conditions, trap air, forming bubbles that stick together and because of its low density, is easily blown around.
Further breakdown can occur onshore which can create an unpleasant slime, which sometimes smells similar to sewage due to the release of sulphur compounds being released by the algae during decomposition.
On previous occasions the foam has been analysed by the Environment Agency and has not been harmful. The samples contained dead algal matter and no evidence of pollution.
It’s nothing to do with pollution and detergents, which has also been confirmed by tests taken by the Environment Agency. When it dries it leaves behind a salty and sandy residue, which washes off with heavy rain, although cars, clothes and windows all need washing.
If you imagine putting too much Fairy Liquid in your sink when you wash up, and sand is suspended in the bubbles, that’s just what it’s like. When the bubbles collapse, the sand is left behind along with the residue of bits of twig, feathers and similar that are carried onto land out of the sea.
The clip below was filmed at high tide on 2 June in 2015 – you can see the shivering mass gathering on the beach and then the wind blows the blobs like snowballs!
The clip below was filmed in December – from the warmth of the car!
You can see how the blobs of froth are blown off the beach, and because they hold their shape they can mount up into drifts which can be several feet deep. Have a look at the great photos on this page of our very own Cleveleys snow!
Ironically, on the fifth anniversary of the day of the sinking of the Riverdance Ferry, on 31 January 2013 the storms blew with gusts about as strong as they get, and high tide at lunch time on 30th and 31st created a spectacle for all to see.
As the tide comes in, the high white waves bash against the shore, and mechanical agitation froths up the surface to create foam. The foam creates a bigger and bigger mass that starts to blow about in the wind – the first sign is little snow-ball like blobs that fly high, followed by more and more and more…
Eventually, as the tide comes in and the beach gets smaller, the froth is pushed off the beach onto the promenade pathway which becomes totally impassable with dense, deep, white quivering foam. The mass builds up so that it starts to blow over the top of the rear flood wall, and then it collects on the road and main promenade.
It’s quite a sight, it looks very strange, and on a sunny day it’s a fascinating sight to see.
Understandably, it draws sightseers every time that it happens – just expect to have to clean your car and wash your clothes if you get caught in it, because when the residue dries it’s full of sand and salt – as you would expect.
We had this spectacle with a 10m tide and a strong westerly headwind at lunchtime on 16th October 2012. The storm gates had been in place through the day and by lunchtime when the tide was at its height, the foam was about a foot deep along North and Rossall Promenade, which is the spot that gets the worst of it. When the wind is westerly and blowing a gale, it whips up the surface of the naturally bubbly sea into a froth. The froth gets thicker and creates a foam, that starts blowing off the crest of each wave and long the beach.
As the tide comes in and the beach shrinks the foam gets blown up and onto the promenade, and then over the sea wall onto the roads and pavements. You can see on the photo that the pathway between the sea wall and beach is completely submerged and impassible.
At a really good and windy high tide, sufficient foam is created to create a wobbling, shivering mass that can reach a good 4′ in depth.
Spectacular Foam at Christmas 2011 – was about as good as it gets!
By the end of Christmas week, it had drawn interest from all around the north west, then around the world, with coverage on websites and TV (more details below).
On Wednesday of this particular week conditions were just right, and even better still, the skies obliged and the sun kept popping through the clouds, creating a pretty, snowy wonderland as everything went white with huge blobs flying through the air. In the photo, the blobs aren’t stuck to the camera lens, they are flying past at great speed!
People were trying to drive along the prom, and their cars just disappeared under the volume, fortunately there were no accidents while visibility completely went!
The wind was blowing heavily from the south, so all these photos are taken pointing in a northerly direction. Had I turned the camera round the lens would have been covered!
A second display happened again in the week at high tide in the afternoon, but wasn’t as impressive as it was supressed by the exceptionally heavy rain fall.
Come to Cleveleys to see Sea Foam – the Eighth Wonder of the World!
A friend took a piece of video of Cleveleys Sea Foam Snow which appeared on both Granada and BBC News after the Christmas 2011 display, you can watch it at the link.
By the time the story had run its course, photos and video had been viral on YouTube, and on websites all around the world, including these that we know of:
The Huffington Post
Sea foam on 13.11.15 – almost to the top of the five foot high sea wall.
The parking area on Rossall Promenade under several feet of foam! 13.11.15
Sea Foam at Rossall Beach, Jan 2013
Sea foam at North Promenade Cleveleys, October 2012
Sea foam blowing off the water at Rossall Promenade, Cleveleys. October 2012
Sea foam at Cleveleys filling the walkway
Sea foam at Cleveleys, completely covering the road in deep white wobbles!
Sea foam at Cleveleys blowing onto the shore