The tragic effects along the coast of Japan from the recent tsunami caused by a massive earthquake are beyond words and belief. I had been receiving seismic warnings all week long from the Tsunami Warning Center, reporting earthquakes off of Japan. However, I, as well as the experts, did not imagine that these seismic events in the 6-6.2 magnitude range were the precursors of a huge earthquake that has been reported in magnitude as high as an 9.0.
Fortunately, the destructive waves did not cause the damage in Newport Harbor that it did in other harbors to our north, simply because the direction of the tsunami waves were angled above Point Conception. However, we did have some wave surges in our harbor, and keep in mind that the damage from a tsunami is caused by large surges as massive amounts of water flood into an area.
Did you know that the word tsunami is formed from two Japanese words “tsu” and “nami” with “tsu” for “harbor” and “nami” for “wave.” Many people will refer to a “harbor-wave” as a tidal wave, but keep in mind that tides are created by the sun and moon and tsunamis are created by the vertical displacement of water.
When a tsunami advisory or warning is issued, the coastal areas’ police, fire, harbor patrol, and lifeguard departments will start to initiate the proper procedures of evacuation depending on expected severity of the effects in the area. The West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Network of the National Weather Service (http://wcatwc.arh.noaa.gov/) uses satellite imagery and special ocean buoys designed to sense wave patterns out of the ordinary.
If a tsunami is very probable or is detected, then the tsunami warnings or advisories are issued, and the warnings include the estimated time of arrival and the estimated swell height. You can calculate the ETA by dividing the distance away by the speed of the swell. For instance, Crescent City is approximately 638 nautical miles by water from Newport Beach, CA, and the average speed of a tsunami is 450 miles per hour, so, 638 nautical miles is 734 statue miles divided by 450 mph, which gives an estimated ETA of just over an hour and half if the event is coming from Crescent City.
Now, that is very useful information for you to determine if you have enough time to get up and watch from the bluffs or only enough time to get to the rooftop of the tallest building in the area. I do not want to get caught by the wave in my car trying to drive up a hill when I should have been climbing up stairs at the nearest multistory building.
If you are on the water in a boat when a tsunami warning is issued, then you want to immediately change course away from land and toward deep water. The swells created by an earthquake or landslide will form into a breaking wave when the bottom of the wave hits the sea floor as it approaches land. At sea, boats are not normally affected by a tsunami swell passing underneath.
Frequently on my radio show, I interview Cary Smith, who is with the Pillar Point Harbor Dept in Half Moon Bay. He is also the president of the California Boating Safety Officers Association. During an interview Smith told me, “first here at Pillar Point Harbor we have looked at the tsunami plan we have had. While our county and all the multiple agencies involved have been working on an updated plan, the plan in place is from 1994. Many things have changed, including phone numbers, area codes – and the Internet.”
Smith continued, “Unfortunately, we live in a world where if it is not broken why fix it. Boating safety officers throughout the state believe being proactive save lives.”
Lastly, Cary stated this is the time for everyone to think; “What would I do if a warning was issued in a specific time frame?”
Tip of the week is the DART® (Deep Ocean Reporting and Assessment of Tsunami) stations (buoys) deployed primarily in the Pacific Ring of Fire and a few other locations. NOAA has placed buoys in specific areas to record height, speed, and location of waves and issue alerts if there is anything ususual.
You can view the buoys and their data in real time at http://www.ndbc.noaa.gov/dart.shtml, and you can register for email alerts from the West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center at http://wcatwc.arh.noaa.gov/index.php.
And don’t forget: Tune in to the No. 1 boating radio talk show in the nation, Capt. Mike Whitehead’s Boathouse Radio Show, broadcasting coast-to-coast on the CRN Digital Talk Radio syndicated network every Saturday at noon, Pacific Time and replayed on Sunday at 10 am Pacific. Join Chandler Bell and me as we talk about “all things boating.” You can find the station listings, cable TV channels, live streaming on the Internet, and now available are apps to listen to the show for your iPhone, Blackberry, iTouch, Android, Palm, and Windows Mobile at www.BoathouseTV.com or www.BoathouseRadio.com.
Until next week, Safe Voyages!