Tsunami Warnings I Have Known

By , February 28, 2010

The big news in Haines yesterday was the Chile earthquake and the resulting tsunami threat. We learned about it as Aly and I prepared to go to town for her weekly Writers Club at the library. Because of the tides, we were “time shifting,” hiking out in the morning for an afternoon appointment. We had most of the day ahead of us, and thought about going for a longer hike somewhere—most likely a beach.

I’d read long ago in a City/Borough assessment that Haines has a lower danger from tsunamis because Lynn Canal is so deep, and we’re fairly sheltered from waves coming across the Pacific. Even so, because tsunamis are highly unpredictable, and because our home is so close to the water, we kept vigilant. Also, crossing Mud Bay, which is also named Flat Bay (both very apt) any tsunami activity there would be problematic.

Nevertheless, we went to town; we had enough errands to keep us off the beaches. We crossed for home just before the estimated time when any tsunami wave would be felt here–but the predicted amplitude for Auke Bay south of us, about 3 inches, made us feel pretty secure.

This brings to mind two other tsunami predictions from my past, both from when we lived in Sitka, Alaska.

Sitka’s on the outside coast, much more exposed to tsunamis. They even get a small surf at Sandy Beach most days. I remember parking with the family above the beach one night to watch the waves predicted from one of the underground nuclear bomb tests in the Aleutians. I remember that we tried to tell ourselves that the incoming waves were slightly higher than usual, but that was probably wishful thinking.

Another time, a fairly large earthquake hit Sitka while Dad, my brother and I prepared to go out fishing. We had started the outboard, and Dad was making last minute adjustments when the boat began bucking in the slip. Dad got after us for playing with the throttle (my main memory of significant earthquakes growing up is getting blamed for the disturbance). On our way to our trolling spot, we passed downtown. We could hear the tsunami warnings sounding, but thought it was a fire or ambulance call. As many in the town followed civil directions and headed to high ground on Harbor Mountain, we calmly cruised to the very strait through which a tsunami would come . . . if it had come. As is often the case, no tsunami developed. Luckily for us.

And, as it turned out, we were lucky yesterday, as well.

The funny thing is, we went through almost exactly the same thing local author, Heather Lende did yesterday, trying to find information on the threat level. When we heard the news, we switched our weather radio to alert mode, and left it all day. It never made a sound. When I checked the Tsunami Center on line, for a long time it merely said it had “failed to connect.” For the most part, we were pretty much on our own, as usual.

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