There’s Such A Thing As A Sneaky Tsunami?

Anak Krakatau Eruption | Photo by

As you know we have had the threat of a tsunami approaching the Oregon coast in the past and it’s also a future possibility. The tsunami warning system has been upgraded, but there is always the possibility of a sneaky tsunami being produced. What do I mean by that term?

Tsunami Damage
Recent Indonesian Tsunami Destruction | Photo by The Indian Express

December 22, 2018 was a tragic day for many people on the other side of the world. A devastating tsunami struck between the Sumatra and Java Islands. Most of us know that tsunamis can be created by massive earthquakes. In that case it is not very difficult for the experts to issue a tsunami warning for areas that are in the path of the potentially giant and destructive wave.

Dwikorita Karnawati | Photo by

However, this particular tsunami was not created in that manner. Instead Anak Krakatau, an active volcano, reportedly partially collapsed triggering an underwater landslide that produced the tsunami. Dwikorita Karnawati, leader of Indonesia’s meteorological agency, was quoted as saying “The volcano reportedly collapsed, triggering an underwater landslide, which in turn kicked off the tsunami.”

Costas Synolakis | Photo by USC

According to an article on titled “What is a volcanic tsunami, and why did one sneak up on Indonesia?” the author, Jack Morse, reported the “The sequence of events didn’t trigger a tsunami alert, catching the country by surprise.” Because of that fact the director of the University of Southern California’s Tsunami Research Center, Costas Synoakis, was quoted by NBC Television as saying “So from that point of view, the Tsunami Warning Centers were essentially useless.”

Tsunami Formation
Tsunami Formation | Image by Aqua Sports & Adventures

In my column dated March 3, 2014 I discussed the meaning of the word tsunami. Here is a paragraph from that column.  NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has a Tsunami website that defines Tsunamis as “ocean waves produced by earthquakes or underwater landslides.” It goes on to say “The word is made up of two Japanese words “tsu” meaning harbor and “nami” meaning wave because of the devastating effects these waves have on low-lying Japanese coastal communities. Tsunamis are often incorrectly referred to as tidal waves, but a tsunami is actually a series of waves that can travel at speeds averaging 450 (and up to 600) miles per hour in the open ocean.” Shallow focus earthquakes under 30 km deep with a Richter scale reading of above 7.0 are usually the cause of massive tsunamis.

Indian Ocean Tsunami 12/26/04 | Photo by

I pointed out one of the most devastating tsunamis. The December 26, 2004 tsunami. I was not in that part of the world when it occurred, but I found out about it while traveling. My wife and I were flying to Rochester, New York to attend my father-in-law’s funeral. We watched updates on the TV monitors at the airports and saw what at the time was unbelievable. The horrific devastation of landmasses along with the death of 230,000 people in fourteen countries. Indonesia was the hardest country hit followed by Sri Lanka, India, and Thailand. The quake’s magnitude was recorded at 9.1-9.3 making it the third largest earthquake ever recorded. It lasted from 8.3 to 10 minutes. Coastal communities were overrun by waves up to 100 feet (30 meters) high. This Youtube video shows the massive waves as they roared in.

Back to this latest tsunami. Take a look at this video of the Anak Krakatau Volcano erupting  and you’ll see the power unleashed at the surface. Scientists will surely be studying this volcanic eruption caused tsunami in an effort to find better means of detecting the underwater landslides so that tsunami warnings can be issued in a more timely manner to save lives.

Let me know what you would like me to talk about or explain. You can email me at: [email protected].

Tim Chuey is a Member of the American Meteorological Society and the National Weather Association and has been Awarded Seals of Approval for television weathercasting from both organizations.

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