SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) – Visitors to Northern California ocean beaches Wednesday were warned to be on the alert for sneaker waves – massive walls of water that can drag a beachgoer to a watery death.

Forecasters said a turbulent weather front churned to life in the cold waters of the Gulf of Alaska was sending sets of massive 20-foot-high waves to beaches ranging from Point Reyes southward to Big Sur.

Embedded among pounding surf likely will be what are known as rogue or sneaker waves.

They are infamous along the Northern California coast for pulling fisherman off shoreline rocks and beachgoers out into sea to their deaths.

The National Weather Service has issued a high surf advisory to be in effect along the coast until 6 p.m. Wednesday.

Meteorologist Steve Anderson said that local skies would be comparatively calm and temperatures mild and warm for the season, luring people to the beaches.

“People should stay well back from the water’s edge,” he said. “Most of it is common sense. If (the water) looks big, then it is big.”

One of the biggest dangers is when dogs play in the surf, get dragged into the water and then their owners jump in to save them, Anderson said.

He advised people to keep an eye on their dogs and if they get into trouble, let them swim back on their own.

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