Tag Archives: Tsunamis

Tsunami video offers insight to West Coast residents

A dramatic video that shows Japan’s March 12 tsunami from ground level has received a lot of attention on YouTube, probably because of its shock value. Our hearts go out to the Japanese people. Meanwhile, I believe this video can offer important insights for those of us who live or visit ocean communities on the West Coast, such as Ocean Shores.

How much time would we have to get to higher ground after an earthquake? The video shows the water level rising rapidly, as the photographer goes up a stairway to get to higher ground. At the end of the video, six minutes in, the serenity of the street has been turned into chaos.

While I worry about coastal communities, where a tsunami is a likely threat, I’m also concerned about waterfront residents and visitors along the Puget Sound shoreline. Although the chance of a tsunami in Puget Sound may be less than on the coast, one could be triggered by an earthquake on the numerous faults that run through the sound, including the Seattle, Tacoma and South Whidbey faults. Earthquakes also may cause massive landslides that can create big waves when hitting the water.

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Thinking about tsunamis here in the Northwest

Reports about the loss of life and devastation in Japan are overwhelming — and yet most experts seem to consider Japan as the best prepared for earthquakes among all countries in the world.

I’ve been covering Northwest earthquake science for more than 25 years. When I heard that the Japanese quake was around magnitude 9 and sending a tsunami across the ocean toward the U.S. West Coast, I thought about an earthquake that occurred off the Washington Coast more than 300 years ago.

That earthquake sent a wall of water across the ocean, washing up on the shores of Japan. Because of that tsunami, researchers have been able to calculate the time of that quake to about 9 p.m. on Jan. 26, 1700.

I wrote a story for Saturday’s Kitsap Sun making some general comparisons between Friday’s earthquake in Japan and the last great Cascadia earthquake of 1700.

In broad-brush terms, “the two earthquakes are very similar,” John Vidale, director of the Pacific Northwest Seismograph Network, told me. “As a first guess, what might happen here is what happened there.”

For Saturday’s piece, written for a general audience, I decided to avoid some of the technical details about the two earthquakes, so allow me to offer some additional information here:

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