My mom taught me that as a little boy and I have remembered it ever since, finding it to be a true indicator often more accurate than the nightly weather forecast. And as hurricane season now rolls into full swing, there is another great indicator of the approach of a hurricane. Now it won't give an exact location but it will give us a warning. It tells us weu are in an area that is potentially at risk within three or four days. Locals in coastal communities have followed this indicator for years and it has provided good advice, even if sometimes missing the mark. But remember, until right before a hurricane strikes, so do the weathermen on TV today.
Waves building to break onshore in a rhythmic pattern and what they indicate was first taught to me walking the beach at age six. My father knew it and passed on his knowledge and when we walked and talked at sunrise and beyond along the ocean he would tell me to watch for the swells and when they break to listen. He added to count the time between each wave and remember it, then let him know. From the time one wave cracked loudly on shore, I began the count. When the next one hit the shore, I continued on three more times until I had a sufficient pattern. The waves were cracking loudly as they broke nine seconds apart. Later, when we were in the cottage listening to the radio, our only outside link for news of the region and the world, the news came on. Hurricane Barbara was in the Bahamas and was announced as being approximately three days away from the Outer Banks if it continued on her projected course. Three days later, it came ashore below Ocracoke and followed the Pamlico before exiting back into the Atlantic just north of above Nags Head. It wasn't a major storm, but it was blowing with gusts on the ocean up to one hundred miles per hour and it did bring a very high tide and surge with some flooding and the highway underwater and power was out for everywhere for at least two days.
What causes the leading waves ahead of the storm to be so rhythmic and systematic in their arrival? Just take a look at the form of a hurricane itself. The strong counter-clockwise direction of the strong winds pushes water forward in patterns of concentric circles and they move intact over large distances. The reason that we don't see and hear them until they are within three to four days is over that long distance they gradually lose their power and dissipate. But the closer the storm gets to its target in this moving pattern, the pattern the bigger the waves get and the louder to crack until they are absorbed by the stormy sea which has no break between the wave action.
So, whether you are a weather buff or not, pay attention to the information that nature freely provides. When you see big waves coming in, check to see if there is a timing process with smooth water in between the waves. And listen for the loud crack, a distinctive sound when the wave breaks and one which tells us something. It is just another tool we need to put in our emergency box of tricks to deal with storms if we live or play on the Outer Banks or similar coastal places.