The World Meteorological Organization has established a new world record for the highest-ever significant wave height measured by a weather buoy at 62.3 feet.
The location of the reading was 59.1 degrees N, 11.7 degrees W – roughly 130 nm off of the Isle of Lewis, Scotland. The reading, on February 4, 2013, followed the passage of a cold front with winds of 44 knots. The previous record of just under 60 feet was measured in 2007, which was also in the North Atlantic.
“This is the first time we have ever measured a wave of 19 meters. It is a remarkable record,” said WMO Assistant Secretary-General Wenjian Zhang. “It highlights the importance of meteorological and ocean observations and forecasts to ensure the safety of the global maritime industry and to protect the lives of crew and passengers on busy shipping lanes,” he said.
Significant wave height is roughly the "average of the highest one-third of the waves, as measured from the trough to the crest," taken over a period of minutes. It corresponds roughly to an experienced mariner's best estimate of wave height.
The highest significant wave height recorded by a ship, 60.7 feet, was observed by the crew of the RRS Discovery in February 2000. The Discovery was at 57.5 degrees N, 12.7 degrees W, a position less than 100 nm southwest of the record buoy observation.
Mass media outlets have described the new record as the "highest recorded wave" – but that honor actually goes a set of 95-foot giants that were part of the RRS Discovery's observations.
Scientists believe that an interaction of waves and wind traveling over the North Atlantic produced the 95-foot swells. The record waves hit the Discovery the day after the passage of a storm, when seas would be expected to subside.
The unprecedented wave height recordings have implications for offshore E&P in waters off the Shetland and Faroe Islands. The FPSO for the Rosebank field – recently canceled – would have been built to withstand 100-foot waves.