Could a Tsunami Impact NW Florida Some Day?

With the recent disaster in Japan... could something similar happen here in Northwest Florida? That was the question I was asked at a recent Panama City Rotary Club Meeting... here is what I had to share.

This past Tuesday I was invited to speak to the Panama City Rotary Club.  The topic...  earthquakes and tsunamis.  Tsunamis have of course been in the news after that 9.0 magnitude earthquake in Japan.  So far, more than 11,000 people have died and 16,000 remain missing.  The Rotary Club wanted me to talk about the risks of a tsunami hitting Northwest Florida.

You may be surprised to know... that it has happened before and it will happen again!  That said, the chances of a tsunami remain very low...  a lot lower than our chances of category 5 hurricane hitting our region.

While most tsunamis occur because of earthquakes... they can also occur because of landslides, meteors, and volcanoes.  As a matter a fact... a likely way we could see a tsunami here in NWFL is from a landslide... especially, a landslide of mud in the Gulf of Mexico from the Mississippi River delta.  A fan of mud extends from the Mississippi into the Gulf.  That mud piles up...  all it takes is for that sediment to shift or become unstable and it could slide deeper into the Gulf... like an avalanche...  creating a large wave in the Gulf.



Although predicting an earthquake is nearly impossible... we have had some successs in predicting tsunamis that result of earthquakes.  As a matter a fact there were tsunami warnings all across the Pacfic after the 9.0 Japan quake.  Although the loss of life in Japan is incredible... had warnings not been issued it would have been so much higher!  One of the tools that scientists use to help 'see' tsunamis while they are out of the open water is a buoy called D.A.R.T. (Deep-ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis).  They are in oceans round the world... including the Gulf of Mexico!

Because tsunamis usually result from massive earthquakes... why do some produce tsunamis and some do not?

The reason has to do with the type of 'fault' that created the tsunami.  It is the interaction between the tectonic plates around the world that causes earthquakes.  Subduction zones where one plate tries to slide under the other are prime locations for devastating tsunamis like the ones in Japan and Indonesia.  Lucky for us... the tectonic plates near us are not as favorable to produce a tsunami.  That does not mean however that an earthquake in our part of the word can not produce a tsunami.

So, to make a long story short...  a tsunami is very unlikely here in NW Florida, but like anyone who lives near a coastline... it is a threat and one that we should prepare for just in case.

For more information on tsunami safety...  click here

Below you will find a copy of my powerpoint presentation I made to the Rotary Club.  Some of the videos are amazing.  I think it all works best of you have Safari as a browser, but you can get the gist even without it.

If you ever have any questions when it comes to tsunamis or any type of weather safety do not hesitate to contact me here in the VIPIR7 Weather Center.



Chris Smith
Chief Meteorologist


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