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Friday, March 11, 2011


Well, the Hawaii tsunami came and went.  Here is a log over the past half a day, starting with a scene of an inundated Sendai Airport.

At around 7:46 PM Hawaii time, a massive 8.9 earthquake struck 81 miles off Sendai (232 miles from Tokyo) in the Pacific Ocean, Japan's largest earthquake in 140 years.  A 33 foot tsunami almost immediately inundated the area, with the above photo showing the neighborhood of the Sendai Airport.  This tremor occurred in the general area of a quake two days ago which registered at 7.3.  The energy release difference between these two earthquakes was around factor of 250.  For details on how to make these calculations, go to my 14April2010 posting.

The prefecture just south of Miyagi (where Sendai is located) is Fukushima, which saw the above tsunami.  The crucial factor is that there is at least one nuclear powerplant now in jeopardy.

Thus far, ocean gauges seem to predict a 6 foot wave in Hawaii at around 1AM HST.  However, neither Taiwan nor the Philippines saw much of an effect, so far.  Perhaps this is one of those situations where the far field is not impacted much.    I worry that when I was in high school, there was a 55 foot run-up at Kahuku on Oahu from the Alaska earthquake.  So, you just don't know, especially as this is an 8.9 earthquake.

Last year I posted my Huffington Post article about the Hawaii Tsunami from Amsterdam.  The result was a 2 foot tsunami, and people actually were disappointed.  Shame!  My problem today is that I'm watching everything on CNN from my room at the Sheraton Grande Sukhamvit in Bangkok, and have an early morning flight to Narita Airport (that's a photo taken just after the earthquake), which is currently closed.  A year ago I was at the Bangkok Shangri-la and got close to being stranded here when the red and yellow shirt fight shut down the airport. This time, I don't know when the next flight can be taken to Japan.

Okay, the first official report is in:  0.7 meters at Barbers Point, Oahu, which is to the west of the island.  This is about two feet.  Sometimes the second wave can be larger, so you can't be too careful.  Kauai earlier unofficially saw an effect, but nothing particularly significant.

Report #2:  on Maui, the waters are receding off Kahului and Wailuku.  These cities are in a more direct path of the tsunami, so this could be serious.  There is at least one NOAA report suggesting a wave of six feet.  Of course, the shape of the coastline and bathymetry can make a huge difference, so certain sites can be in greater jeopardy.  The second wave was at 7 feet and third up to 9 feet.  A similar height was reached at Lahaina.

Report #3:  Hilo is seeing three foot waves.  However, this city is somewhat shielded from the direction of the earthquake, so Maui might well experience the worst case scenario.  Yet, here is a Youtube clip from Kona, which largely faces the earthquake.

Actually, when you come down to it, no major city in Hawaii faces the earthquake itself.  The north west side of all the islands are generally protected by high cliffs, although the North Shore of Oahu, where the major surf tournaments are held, could be vulnerable.  Kona is also pointed in that direction, but Kapalua seems to be blocked by Molokai and Lanai.

By dawn, there should be a clear sense of any damage.  In the meantime, chances are that the decision of the State government to call for evacuations might have actually saved lives in Hawaii.

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