What do you think of when you hear the word “tsunami”? Hollywood blockbusters have shown towering, singular waves, while news reports often show chaos and destruction in a far-off land. Tsunamis large enough to have a significant impact in North America are indeed rare — but for the more than 90 million people living in coastal communities in the U.S., the threat is very real. Yahoo News explains why tsunami warnings should be taken seriously.
GARIN FLOWERS: What do you think of when you hear the word “tsunami?” Probably massive waves from a Hollywood movie or chaos and destruction in a far off land.
Tsunamis are caused by underwater disturbances, such as earthquakes or volcanic eruptions, which push water upward and outward toward the coast. From land, they function more like a storm surge from a hurricane then those tidal waves you might be imagining.
The water rises sometimes violently, rushing inland causing flooding and potential disaster. In the US, there are more than 90 million people living in coastal counties. More than 30 million here on the West Coast. And while tsunamis big enough to pound the US are rare, research shows that some areas may have only minutes to react when the time comes.
The Washington State Department of Natural Resources conducted a wave simulation study and found that it a tsunami-triggered earthquake under Puget Sound could engulf Seattle’s shoreline and under more than 20 feet of water within minutes. Even distant sources can cause destruction.
For example, in 1964, an earthquake off the coast of Alaska caused deadly flooding in Crescent City, California. And in 2011, the Tohoku-oki tsunami, originating off the coast of Japan, caused more than $100 million worth of damage here in the US.
The National Tsunami Warning Center takes the threat very seriously. They say, all it takes is 3 feet of tsunami inundation to devastate a local community and destroy a harbor in minutes. But luckily, they also have a warning plan in place. But it’s something to consider as record climate change is already causing ocean levels to rise and exacerbating natural disasters.
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So with all of this information, what should you do? Well, number one, you have to come up with a plan. Number two, pay attention to the warnings when you hear a siren or something that may be alerting you to a tsunami.
Number three, try not to panic. Be aware of the fact that there is a tsunami siren and to know to move inland or to higher ground.