Early Tuesday morning, the National Tsunami Center issued a tsunami warning for parts of the U.S. west coast after a magnitude 7.9 earthquake hit Alaska.
Although the warning was eventually canceled, many waking up in California and other coastal states were left wondering what to do during a tsunami and how it could impact their area.
What is a tsunami?
Tsunamis are ocean waves generated by a sudden change by the water and are usually caused by earthquakes, but can also be triggered by volcano eruptions, a landslide or even by the impact of a comet hitting the ocean, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA).
How do we know if a tsunami is coming?
Warning signs of a potential tsunami include feeling a strong earthquake near a coastal city, observing a sudden change in the ocean height or hearing a loud roaring sound coming from the ocean, according to the NOAA.
Officials will issue a warning if there's potential for a tsunami with a high danger of widespread flooding. People in warning areas are advised to move inland.
Can a tsunami actually hit California?
Yes, it's absolutely possible.
In 2011, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake hit off the coast of Honshu, Japan and triggered a tsunami. While the event devastated Japan, the effects were also felt in California and resulted in one death, dozens of structures destroyed and nearly $40,000 in coastal damage.
While felt across 27 harbors statewide, the majority of damage was centered in the Santa Cruz and Crescent City harbors, according to the California Department of Conservation.
Over history, more than 80 tsunamis have been recorded in California. Tsunamis in California are not common and for the most part, have caused little or no damage when they have occurred.
However, there are instances where tsunamis have caused multiple deaths. In 1964, 12 people were killed when a tsunami struck the coast of California after a magnitude 9.2 earthquake hit Alaska, according to the Department of Conservation.
A surge of water 20-feet high flooded 29 blocks of Crescent City.
How can you prepare for a tsunami?
If you live in a coastal area, it's important to know the history of tsunamis and flooding in the region. If you do live in a potential danger zone, you should learn where the nearest emergency shelter is and map out the best route to the shelter. Packing a portable disaster supply kit and storing it where it's easy to access is also a good idea when preparing for the event of a tsunami.
Other things you should know about tsunamis.
- A tsunami can strike anywhere, at any time along the U.S. coast.
- No, you can't outrun a tsunami. The event is like a fast rising flood or advancing wall of water that can hit with devastating force.
- A tsunami isn't just one big wave. It's a current of waves that could continue for hours. The first wave doesn't necessarily mean it's the most dangerous.
- A tsunami doesn't have to be triggered by a local earthquake. It could spark from an earthquake a long distance away.
- Tsunamis can reach a coast within minutes of an earthquake. The only warning you may have is the earthquake itself.