Sea Fog
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

By Henry H. Mitchell, December 17, 2008.

Sea Fog in Myrtle Beach

Sea fog on an otherwise sunny December afternoon, Springmaid Pier, Myrtle Beach.

On a bright, sunny, warm December afternoon in Myrtle Beach, suddenly sea fog came rolling in off the ocean like thick banks of smoke. As it rushed by us, only a few feet off the ground, it had the precise appearance of thick smoke with ragged lower edges.

During a similar occurrence a few weeks ago, we encountered a youngster racing for home on his bicycle, yelling, “Big fire! Big fire!” We called out to him to slow down a second, and explained that this is sea fog, not smoke. He wouldn't hear of it. “No, it's a big fire! That's smoke!” — To which I asked if he smelled smoke. He replied, “Yes, I smell smoke! That's a big fire!” and continued on his frenetic way.

Of course, sea fog has no smell of smoke. The power of suggestion is strong.

Sea fog is caused when warm, moist air passes over cooler ocean water, which causes the water vapor in the air to condense as it moves along. The result can be quite startling. On this day, visibility dropped almost instantly to around 200 feet at the shoreline. Meanwhile, there were no overlying clouds, so the sun continued to shine into the thickly gray-curtained setting.

A similar phonomenon, “sea smoke,” occurs when cold, dry air passes over warmer water. Over inland bodies of water, this formation is called “steam fog” (see related article).

This guide to Myrtle Beach is sponsored by Mitchells Publications.