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Tsunami Alert! All eyes on the Pacific.

27 Feb 2010, 3:53 pm
Destruction in Concepción, Chile
Destruction in Concepción, Chile

Growing up in Costa Rica, I’ve been through my fair share of strong earthquakes. I hated them growing up. They’re scary, they’re unexpected and it feels like your house is about to get swallowed up by the earth. I distinctly remember the April 22nd, 1991 earthquake (7.4 magnitude) which was  followed by hundreds of horrifying aftershocks. The ground didn’t stop shaking for 24 hours. I remember sitting outside with my parents and brother for hours until it got dark and we decided to all huddle together for the night in my parents’ bedroom. Try going to sleep while 4 – 5 magnitude earthquakes are shaking the ground every hour and even smaller ones occurring every 10 minutes or so!

Upon waking up today and seeing the top headline about Chile’s 8.8 magnitude earthquake, I revert back to those experiences I had growing up. Now 7.4 was awful, but 8.8?! That’s just insane. I believe you’d have a very tough time just trying to remain standing in an earthquake like that. Images of flipped cars, destroyed buildings and highway systems collapsing are flooding the internet and news programs.

This earthquake is officially one of the strongest quakes in the world. Amazingly, Chile has gone through worse–back in May 22nd of 1960, an unfathomable 9.5 magnitude earthquake impacted the South American country. It resulted in over 1500 deaths and over 2 million people were left homeless. It also ignited a tsunami which caused deaths in Hawaii, Japan and the Philippines. So yes, this most recent earthquake definitely raises our eyebrows as it too quickly spawned a tsunami.

Fortunately for us, technology has given us ample preparation time now. We can track tsunami waves from afar and we can give ETAs on first wave arrivals. It really is incredible how far we’ve come. Hawaii is expected to feel the impact of the tsunami at around 11 AM local time (4 PM EST).  Eight foot waves will be expected at Hilo. Tsunami warnings are in effect for Hawaii, Guam, the American Samoa, Samoa and other Pacific islands. Tsunami advisories (meaning conditions are being monitored) are in effect for the U.S. west coast (California, Oregon, Washington and Alaska). British Columbia is also under an advisory.

Hawaii: Tsunami Warning
Hawaii: Tsunami Warning

One thing to remember about tsunamis is that they’re not like wind waves… the kind that you surf on. A tsunami is actually a SERIES of shallow water waves. They are controlled by the depth of the water it moves in, so the deeper the water, the faster they move. For ocean depths of 12,400 feet, a tsunami would average speeds of 460 mph! These waves undulate up and down. The water begins to pile up and before you know it, you have a surge of high water. Wave intervals can be anywhere between 5 minutes and 1 hour–so tsunami events are quite prolonged. It’s not that kind that you see in cartoons where you see a big huge “surfer dude” wave sloshing into a village on the coast. It’s more like a large swell propagating at a rapid rate.

Officials remain generally optimistic given the lead time we have on this tsunami. We’ll keep watching and you can keep yourself  posted here:

Susie Martin
WeatherNation Meteorologist

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