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Does the East Coast have any kind of tsunami warning system?

Merton Vance

The National  Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration operates two tsunami warning centers in the Pacific Ocean, one in Hawaii http://www.prh.noaa.gov/ptwc/ and one in Alaska  http://wcatwc.arh.noaa.gov/ Each is linked to a network of 32 data buoys scattered across the Pacific that relay wave data by satellite.

After the devastating tsunami that hit Indonesia in December 2004, NOAA added seven additional buoys off the East and Gulf coasts of the United States and in the Caribbean Sea that can relay wave information.

In the rather remote chance that a tsunami were to be detected heading toward the East Coast, alerts would be sent out over the National Weather Service radio network that is used to warn of tornadoes, hurricanes and other weather hazards.

Tsunamis are much more likely to happen in the Pacific Ocean because of the geology of the ocean floor, where earthquakes are more common than in the Atlantic Ocean.

Nonetheless, tsunamis have occurred in the Atlantic. In 1755, an earthquake off the coast of Portugal destroyed much of Lisbon and triggered a tsunami that hit Lisbon, the coast of Spain and parts of North Africa.

Earthquake-generated tsunamis have been recorded about half a dozen times over the years in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, most recently in 1918, when 32 people died, according to Gerard Fryer, a professor and tsunami researcher at the Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology. For more details, see http://www.soest.hawaii.edu/GG/ASK/tsunamis.html

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One Response to “ Does the East Coast have any kind of tsunami warning system?”

  1. On September 30, 2009 at 11:23 am Richard LeSesne wrote:

    The answer is mostly no, except for parts of the US Caribbean posessions and selected East Coast locations with some limited preparations. Before you can have a tsunami warning system you must have an oceanic tsunami detection system and the North and Mid-Atlantic do not have any tsunami detection systems. The South Atlantic and Caribbean is starting to implement one. Without an oceanic detection system, NOAA can only guess if there’s a wave based on the magnitude, depth and characteristics of a particular seismic event, but can’t measure or monitor if there’s a wave been generated and its progress of movement towards population centers like they do in the Pacific.

    Tsunami warning preparedness also requires an investment in determining what parts of the land would be flooded based on a particular tsunami wave height as well as evacuation procedures. With these procedures they place signs on roads where folks can evacuate under a “Tsunami Evacuation Route” just like other evacuation routes. They also imolement a land-based warning system which includes sirens, evacuation routes, flood maps, reverse 9-1-1 notification systems and shelters.

    The NOAA tsunami land-based disaster planning and reaction program is called “Tsunami Ready”. Below are the URLs for the Mayaguez announcement and the Tsunami Ready NOAA program.


    East Coast Tsunami Ready Communities


    In summary, we have no oceanic warning system. We can only guess if a tsunami is coming. In some locales, a Tsunami planning system has been implemented.

    Although the odds are very small, our biggest danger on the East cost for a tsunami would come from a major land slide in the Azores or the Grand Banks in Newfoundland. See the attached URLs below:



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