Storm Imogen’s hurricane-force winds are churning up flying, smelly suds.

Imagine if a convoy of custard trucks overturned and covered a neighborhood with creamy, jiggly goop—that was the scene yesterday in Penmarch, which was inundated with “sea foam” from the powerful Storm Imogen.

Cars and pedestrians slogged through dirty-white suds that looked like the mother of all laundromats had suffered a grievous malfunction. Strong winds—in places the tempest delivered gusts of nearly 100 mph, well above hurricane force—drove clots of foam into the air, where they swarmed like locusts distressingly near mouth level.

The causes of the flying gunk were those winds as well as strong waves, which churned organic matter in the sea—salts, fats, proteins, algae, pollutants, and maybe even detergents—into an unwholesome, reportedly foul-smelling lather. Sea foam isn’t normally a cause for alarm, though on rare occasions it can be noxious. Writes NOAA:

Most sea foam is not harmful to humans and is often an indication of a productive ocean ecosystem. But when large harmful algal blooms decay near shore, there are potential for impacts to human health and the environment. Along Gulf coast beaches during blooms of Karenia brevis, for example, popping sea foam bubbles are one way that algal toxins become airborne. The resulting aerosol can irritate the eyes of beach goers and poses a health risk for those with asthma or other respiratory conditions. Scientists studying the cause of a seabird die-offs off California in 2007 and in the Pacific Northwest in 2009 also found a soap-like foam from a decaying Akashiwo sanguinea algae bloom had removed the waterproofing on feathers, making it harder for birds to fly. This led to the onset of fatal hypothermia in many birds.

The locals seem to have weathered this oceanic assault just fine, however, with no reports of illnesses. The same goes for residents of Croyde in England, who also got a big taste of the foam:

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Life

    Say Goodbye to Spain's Glorious Three-Hour Lunch Break

    Catalonia plans to shorten work hours—but don’t call it the end of the siesta.

  2. Environment

    Let's All Swim in the Once-Filthy Canals of Paris

    Unlike many cities, the French capital has made good on its promise to re-open urban waterways to bathers. How did they do it?  

  3. Design

    What's Inside a Neighborhood in a Box?

    On the outskirts of New York City, a new housing model aimed at Millennials asks: What is city living?

  4. Uber drivers sit in their cars waiting for passengers.
    Equity

    What Uber Drivers Say About Uber

    Researchers conducted in-depth interviews and discovered a lot about the pitfalls of working in the rideshare business.

  5. Transportation

    Honolulu's Rapid Transit Crisis

    Traffic in Hawaii’s capital is terrible, but construction on a rail system may now cost as much as $13 billion while alleviating road congestion by as little as one percent.