The recent Chilean earthquake has set off a bit of a firestorm of controversy over the weekend involving tsunami warnings. In our part of the world, I guess you can equate a tsunami to “storm surge” generated by hurricanes. Often times, for hurricane landfall in the U.S., the SLOSH Model is used as the guide to forecast anticipated storm surge for a given tropical cyclone intensity. As meteorologists, when we have to forecast surge heights, it’s all based on what computer models “forecast” will happen. The same is true with Tsunami forecasting! Tsunami forecasters integrate earthquake magnitude, location, sea-floor type, and so forth to come up with a tsunami wave forecast.
In recent days, many have criticized the Tsunami Forecast Center of “overforecasting” of a tsunami event, that really never materialized as first feared. Just yesterday, the Tsunami Forecast Center commented on these charges, and I believe they have hit the nail on the head. “It’s a key point to remember that we cannot under-warn. Failure to warn is not an option for us,” said Dai Lin Wang, an oceanographer at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii. “We cannot have a situation that we thought was no problem and then it’s devastating. That just cannot happen.”
Folks, tsunami prediction is an evolving science, and no two earthquakes generate the same types of tsunamis. “Tsunamis are the most infrequent, and most irregular, of all of earth’s natural hazards”, according to NOAA. It’s important to also remember that much of our forecasting for tsunamis is based on computer algorithms and still in it’s infancy. There needs to be more money and research devoted to this field, as well as more deep ocean observation stations in the Pacific.
That’s my take…what’s yours?