The Great Tsunami of 2010

by on 28/02/10 at 12:21 pm

Actually, it’s early in the year to make a proclamation of that sort, so I may be tempting fate a bit… there could certainly be an actual Great Tsunami at some point later in the year in which case I’ll probably regret my sarcasm here. Let’s hope not, for reasons other than the potential wounding of my pride that might occur.

As you can see, our tsunami experience here in the Pacific Northwest wasn’t all that great, a state of affairs apparently shared around most of the Pacific Rim. Nine foot waves in Japan? Didn’t happen. Flooding in Hawaii? Not that anyone could tell (despite CNN’s somewhat breathless live coverage).

The great waves break on shore


We got the National Weather Service Tsunami Alert fairly early in the day and quickly looked up the predicted impact at the place we are housesitting near Port Townsend: 1/4′ wave. Port Angeles was to have it even worse: a half-foot monster wall of water impacting at around 1544 local time.

Hawaii was to be hit an hour before us, so we watched CNN anxiously for some idea what to expect. As it happened, what we saw there was a pretty good predictor for what we would experience here: some minor tidal anomalies, nothing you would notice if you weren’t already looking for it.

We had to look pretty hard, but we think we may actually have seen some evidence of the surge when it came in. The wind was blowing pretty hard out of the south yesterday, and the bay here is well-sheltered from southerly winds. Consequently, the water out front was pretty well dead flat for most of the morning, with occasional wind ruffles, even as two or three foot breakers crashed in up around Port Townsend itself. But at about 1550, we saw a weird back-pattern of interference in the otherwise calm water… the cross-hatch you may just be able to make out in the photo above. Those tiny, one or two inch waves refracted off the shoreline are what we believe the great wall of water sent blasting north from the Chilean coast amounted to when it got here to Washington.

As underwhelming as the event was, it still struck me as pretty amazing. Small though they may be, any evidence whatsoever of a climactic event that happened closer to the Antarctic than to us is pretty incredible. Of course, we can’t prove that was what those are, but there was nothing else out there yesterday which might have generated them, and it was certainly not a phenomena of the wind.

Although I have enjoyed making fun of the predictions and the outcomes from the tsunami all around the North Pacific, I believe that the various prediction centers certainly did the right thing, and the degree of response to the threat was appropriate. The evacuations were prudent and seemed to go smoothly, and I sincerely hope that the lack of any dramatic outcome does not lull anyone into a false sense of security. Rather, it seemed to me that this served as a valuable exercise of the warning systems and a validation of the plans and procedures that have been put into place to deal with the potential for real disaster from these natural phenomena. I know that I will have no hesitation in running for the hills (or heading for deep water, should I be on the boat and in a position to do so) if one of these alerts were triggered again.

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