Your Florida Daily: The 1992 rogue wave

New podcast episode spotlights a rare phenomenon that appeared in Volusia County 30 years ago

1992 Newspaper Clipping Of Volusia County Rogue Wave

ORLANDO, Fla. – It was the summer of 1992.

Independence Day weekend was almost here and Volusia County lifeguards were preparing for the beaches to be packed, however, no forecaster could predict what happened that Friday night.

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All week, producer Katrina Scales is diving deeper into some of her favorite random Florida facts from 2022.

On Tuesday’s episode of Your Florida Daily: the story of the mystery wave and how it challenged scientists to confirm what sailors around the world already knew.

That rogue waves are real.

Listen below:

Just before midnight on July 3, 1992, a wave appears from the darkness, 18 feet tall and 27 miles long.

The wave crashes ashore smashing cars parked on the sand and pushing sailboats into the streets. The wall of white water spanned from Ormond Beach, down to New Smyrna Beach and surged high enough to lap the bottom of Daytona’s Main Street Pier.

Then, the water receded and it was calm again.

Although people were walking on the beach, no one was reported missing. According to news reports, a few dozen were treated for minor injuries.

No one had seen anything like this phenomenon.

The head Volusia County beach lifeguard was quoted at the time saying they were lucky the freak wave struck at 11:00 at night instead of 11 a.m. Saturday, otherwise, they’d be “counting the dead.”

Associated Press article describing 1992 'rogue' wave in Volusia County

Scientists, who were at a loss to explain how and why the wave happened, first suggested an underwater landslide caused the tsunami.

But such a large landslide would have registered on seismic monitors — and it didn’t.

Without an explanation, speculation exploded. One local official theorized that it was a “big burp of natural gas.” Another blamed the Daytona mystery wave on a meteorite strike.

Tales of monster waves arriving without warning in oceans, rivers and lakes before disappearing without a trace had been reported for nearly two centuries.

But scientists were skeptical.

It wasn’t until 1995 when the first rogue wave was detected by a measuring instrument did it prove the waves’ existence and opened up widespread interest in studying them.

According to the National Weather Service, today’s accepted explanation for the Volusia wave is that it was caused by a “squall line” pushing wind and water into the coastline.

On July 3, 1992, a 27-mile-long wave rolled onto the Volusia County beach at around 2300 EST. The wave's extent was from...

Posted by US National Weather Service Melbourne Florida on Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The story, however, was overshadowed that summer by a much bigger storm system. Hurricane Andrew slammed into South Florida about six weeks later.

In the 30 years since that summer, Southeastern Florida has not experienced a direct hit from a major hurricane or a rogue wave.

While both are possible at any time, experts said only one of these phenomena can be predicted.

Stay tuned for more special episodes of Your Florida Daily this week. Listen every weekday on, Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

About the Author:

Katrina Scales joined News 6 as a TV producer in June 2021.