An analysis of coastal tide gage records and coincident weather data shows that at synoptic time scales the sea level changes are highly correlated with variations in the alongshore component of wind (better than with wind stress). Regression analysis indicates that there are systematic seasonal differences in how the sea responds to given wind stress. A study based on a simple barotropic model, which agrees with the main observed features, shows that bottom friction becomes important at synoptic time scales. Use of a quadratic friction law yields the solution in which sea level is correlated with wind. The observed phase lags also agree with those predicted by the model.