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Tsunami advisory canceled for San Diego coast after underwater volcano eruption near Tonga

People were advised to move off the beach and out of the harbors and marinas, avoid the coastline Saturday morning.

SAN DIEGO — The NWS San Diego  issue a tsunami advisory for San Diego County beaches early Saturday after an underwater volcano erupted in the South Pacific. The advisory was canceled at 1:30 p.m. 

The NWS reported at 12:32 p.m. that San Diego had 1.4- foot waves and La Jolla had .6 feet. The highest tsunami coastal observations in California were in Port San Luis, with 4.3 feet reported.

"Ocean water transmits energy so efficiently that the tsunami would reach here, the question is would it have any size,” said San Diego State Professor of Geology Emeritus Dr. Pat Abbott.

Abbott says it was probably difficult for most San Diegans to recognize the tsunami along with the current high tides and large waves.

"The definition of tsunami is a harbor wave, and everybody does not get the same wave, it depends if you are up a river valley, you might get a really big one or if you are in a harbor you might get a big one, but for San Diego, where we are sitting here with a lot of islands off shore, those islands act as barriers, and they use up a lot of the incoming energy, so we don't get as big of a tsunami,” Abbott said.

Once the total surge hit the San Diego coastline, there was no damage. But the last tsunami to hit California came from Japan in 2011. It traveled 5,000 miles across the ocean and caused damage up and down the coast.

The NWS said at 7:05 a.m. that there were "no significant concerns about inundation."

"Seeing some surges on the Port San Luis tsunami gauge. Reporting up to a 24 cm residual so far. That's 9.4 inches or about 19 inches from the bottom and top of the residual," the National Weather Service's Los Angeles office tweeted at 8:08 a.m.

Waves capable of producing strong currents hazardous to swimmers, boats, and coastal structures were expected to arrive starting at 7:50 a.m. Wave heights of 1 to 2 feet were expected.

The advisory was in effect for Alaska, Hawaii and the entire West Coast.

The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano, near Tonga, erupted late Friday. A tsunami hit Tonga's largest island, Tongatapu, according to CNN, which reported that waves were flooding the capital.

No evacuation orders were in place in San Diego County.

Seismologist Lucy Jones, founder of the Dr. Lucy Jones Center for Science and Society, said the expected short-term increase of 1-3 feet in sea level would only be an issue near the beach.

"Tsunamis are not one wave. It's more like sloshing and that sloshing can continue for a day. Just because the first wave has passed, it is not time to go see the beach," Jones tweeted.

San Diego County posted an emergency incident message and sent out mobile push alerts Saturday morning warning that "coastal areas of San Diego County could experience strong currents that may be hazardous to swimmers, boats and coastal structures." The warning asked people to "avoid the coastline and move off the beach and out of the harbors and marinas. Do not go to the coast to watch the tsunami."

7:50am at Windansea - the beach is taken over by water but it’s mainly because of high surf and high tide. So it’s hard to tell any impacts of a tsunami wave at this beach except the overall high levels of water. There are a lot of people here watching, they likely got the alert too. CBS 8 San Diego

Posted by Neda Iranpour on Saturday, January 15, 2022

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