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A foaming azure battering ram pummeled Palm Beach County’s coast this week, cutting cliffs into fragile dune lines, prying boards from beach stairs and tempting surfers with a swell so powerful whitewater splashed 20-feet high onto the Lake Worth Pier Monday.

The waves, sent south by the brutal winter storm that hit the northeast last week, were forecast to reach 15 feet in the Gulfstream Monday, but were breaking near that on the biggest sets in Lake Worth and Jupiter.

At high tide, Lake Worth lifeguards strung yellow caution tape across beach entrances as salt water crept closer to the beach boardwalk. Sweeps of wet sand across pathways were evidence water had already pushed that high.

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“We just want to make sure no one does anything foolish,” said Mathew Botts, chief of Lake Worth Ocean Rescue. “We don’t want people getting swept out to sea because they were taking a selfie and a wave gets them.”

A coastal flood advisory, high surf advisory and high rip current risk remain in effect at least through this evening. A brawny side shore current sucking south was also a concern Monday, said Doug Yoakum, aquatics manager for the City of Lake Worth.

That meant that while the towering waves were alluring for surfers, getting past the multiple-tiers of breaking whitewater was a challenge few were willing to take.

“The undercurrent is dragging you hard toward the pier,” said Fort Lauderdale resident Guillermo Rendon, who tried to paddle out at R.G. Kreusler Park just north of Lake Worth. “I couldn’t even get half way out. When it’s this size, it’s not a joke.”

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Both the Lake Worth and Juno Beach piers were closed Monday because of the high surf.

Benny’s on the Beach, which is on the Lake Worth Pier, closed the back half of its restaurant Monday, but opened tables on the boardwalk for a busy lunch service. The pier’s deck planks are designed to break away individually so water can wash through concrete support beams. Restaurant owners didn’t want to take a chance of someone getting hurt on a big wave.

“We are not thinking about our pockets at this point,” said Max Lipton, co-owner of Benny’s on the Beach. “We’ve been lucky so far, but for the safety of customers we decided not to seat in the normal dining room.”

The Dune Deck Cafe on Lantana Beach also stayed open Monday.

The big swells should begin to diminish mid-week as the low pressure system in the northeast moves farther away. But waves are still expected to be 8 to 10 feet at the beach today, and as high as 8 feet on Wednesday, said Chris Fisher, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Miami.

An area of high pressure is forecast to slide east today, sucking up south winds ahead of a cold front that should move through South Florida on Wednesday. That front brings a 50 percent chance of showers Wednesday, with a daytime high Thursday of 72 degrees in West Palm Beach.

Damage to the county’s shoreline from the heavy surf might not be evident until later this week, but there were already signs of significant erosion at Coral Cove Park in Tequesta where four-to-eight foot dropoffs formed as a result of the heavy surf.

Mike Grella, the executive director of the Jupiter Inlet District, said the waves were the most powerful he can remember since the Halloween Storm of 1991 — known by most Americans as the Perfect Storm that devastated New England.

“Not since the Halloween Storm do I remember waves this ferocious. That storm washed out the road leading to the south side of the Inlet” in DuBois Park, said Grella, a Jupiter resident who was chairman of the JID in 1991.

North Palm Beach County beaches were closed to swimmers because of rip currents and waves up to 12 feet. But people on the beach weren’t safe either.

Several were swept away on Sunday and had to be rescued by lifeguards, said Palm Beach County Ocean Rescue Training Officer Brian Bowen.

Sunny skies and light winds Monday belied the dangers of the surf, leaving some people planning for a beach day surprised at the size of the waves and lack of sand to plant their chairs. On Palm Beach, lifeguard Ryan Zabovnik was also concerned about debris in the water.

“Stairs, wood, trees,” Zabovnik said pointing to a large chunk of dune and brush that had broken off from somewhere and was lolling in the beach break. “After today, the waves should start going down and we’ll have more room on the beach.”

That may also be the opportunity for surfers to take advantage of a more manageable swell with winds turning closer to offshore as the cold front passes Wednesday.

“These conditions are one in a million,” Rendon said. “You catch one wave like this, and it’s in your memory forever.”

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