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Tsunami weather

By: Dr. Jeff Masters, 8:41 PM GMT on December 28, 2005

Monday marked the one-year anniversary of the great December 26, 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which killed over 283,000 people. The earthquake that generated the tsunami was the fourth strongest in the past century, and caused an oscillation of the Earth's surface of about 20-30 cm (8 to 12 in), equivalent to the effect of the tidal forces caused by the Sun and Moon. The shock waves of the earthquake were felt across the planet--even as far away as Oklahoma, where vertical movements of 3 mm (0.12 in) were recorded. The entire Earth's surface is estimated to have moved vertically by up to 1 cm.

What effect did this remarkable event have upon the Earth's weather? According to the Harris' Farmer's Almanac for 2006 (not to be confused with its competitor, the Old Farmer's Almanac), the unique weather of 2005 was largely attributable to the tsunami:

"The fact that the tsunami churned through the water, altering the sea surface temperatures, did have an influence. The unusual water temperatures changed the weather conditions above the water's surface and that, in turn, changed the weather locally, regionally, and even around the globe."

However, an examination of the sea surface temperature imagery from the days immediately following the earthquake shows that the tsunami had very little effect on the ocean temperature. While there was some minor cooling observed within 1 km of the shorelines closest to the earthquake's epicenter, by two days later (Figure 1), sea surface temperatures in the region showed no trace that anything unusual had happened. The impact of the tsunami on sea surface temperatures was less than that of a weak tropical storm! This is because while a tsunami can create tremendous waves and mixing of the water when it crashes ashore, this effect is limited to shallow waters 1 km or less from shore. The tsunami's impact in deep water is very limited. Satellite measurements of the tsunami's passage over the open ocean revealed a maximum wave height of only 50 cm (20 in), which caused very little stirring of the water over the open ocean. There is nothing at all to suggest that this tsunami, or any tsunami in recorded history, has had a significant impact on regional or global weather.

Figure 1.Sea Surface temperatures anomolies one day before and two days after the Dec. 26, 2004 tsunami. The anomalies (the difference between average sea surface temperature and observed temperature) show virtually no change due to the passage of the tsunami waves.

Jeff Masters

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

Reader Comments

Dr Masters, Thanks for all of this information... That was such a monster; killing so many people...appreciate your updates! Gamma
Yeah, thanks Dr. Masters... Great info.

Pensacola21...Hi, I usually only lurk everynow and then and post once a day on Dr Master's blog..but I know you are on here most days...if you want. I have an on-going, 24/7 party blog going for past 10 days, most of your friends pop in and out there all the time and some of the old gang is there. Please feel free to join the fun when you get a chance. Very fun and lighthearted conversation.
Palmbeacher pops in occasionally...Gamma
Thanks again Dr. Masters. It seems like we are always hearing crazy claims, and it's nice to see a deserving one get shot down!

Hi Pensacola21, see you around -- maybe at gamma's blog!
Great info there.

I live around 25 miles from the coast here in Southern California. I wonder what my chances are for water makeing it that far inland if there was ever a tsunami here.
what up i got 75mph winds coming my way
I just found this blog site. Maybe I can ask some aware people if they have noticed whale/squid/propoise beachings that occurred just prior to the EQ/Tsunami? I have long noticed that happen prior to seismic events of note. EQs disrupt pigeon races too worldwide - tey also are susceptible to sunspots, etc. Betrue
Great info Dr. Masters. I agree with Phillyfan. Sounds like a great bunch of people you have on your blog here.

Posted By: lightning10 at 8:12 PM GMT on December 28, 2005.

I live around 25 miles from the coast here in Southern California. I wonder what my chances are for water makeing it that far inland if there was ever a tsunami here.

I have read that a sufficiently strong tsunami could make it all the way to the mountains.

Here in Orange County, there are large areas that are flood plains even without tsunamis. These areas are subject to flooding in the event of an extremely wet year, yet they are fully developed subdivisions with very expensive homes packed tightly together.

A large tsunami could be devastating here.

10. OGal
Earthquakes have always been my number one interest. I think this started after living in San Francisco. We lived in Colma right above the San Andreas fault. Now my interst has moved to Washington-Oregon where there truly could be a horrible disaster be it from the sub-duction zone or the volcanoes that are active in the area. I moniter Mt. St. Helens daily. Mt. Rainier could devestate the area if a major eruption occured. This entire area, also California could be hit by major tusnamis.
11. Inyo
I have read that a sufficiently strong tsunami could make it all the way to the mountains.

not saying a lot since the mountains come all the way to the ocean in places :)

but seriously, most of the valleys are on alluvial plains, 500-1000+ feet above sea level. A tsunami in the area would be absolutely devestating, but i wouldnt imagine it would get more than a mile or two away from the coast.

If it came from the west, the low ridge of sand dunes, etc, would block off most areas except venice/ballona where the LA river used to come through.

If it came from the south, Long Beach, Newport, etc would be devestated. The islands would break it up a little.. but not enough.

Highway 5 south and 101 north would also be taken completely out as well as highway 1 of course.

if the subduction trench off WA went off, only northern california around Mendoncino would be severely affected. No other areas face the trench. Southern California would probably have very little to worry about except maybe San Miquel Island but no one really lives out there.
Earthquakes are always a hazard in CA, but as long as we're seeing lots of small ones, they're at least relieving strain.

You can see the last week's earthquake activity in the US here:

US Quakes

then click on California for a closer look, or click this link for California alone:


Washington-Oregon is here.

All events are color coded to the last hour, day, or week. EAch box on the chart links to details on the individual incident.

There are other links to the site on quakes worldwide.

Have fun scoping out the site, but be warned: If there's a noticeable temblor out here on the Left Coast, half the geeks in Silicon Valley will overload the USGS server trying to find out the details on it. The other Californians will agree; if it's anything less than a 5, we don't even blink....

On the night of the anniversary there was a very interesting TV-programme here in Sweden about how and what caused this killer tsunami. It seems that along the faultline the seafloor rose as the preasure broke and that this caused the tsunami. Some of the small islands on top of the faultline rose by some feet and the seafloor is now dry. The same kind of geological feature is present just of shore of Oregon and the conclusion was that this could be even more devastating also because is is so much closer to the shoreline and would only give about 15 min time to get out of the way. Scary
14. OGal
Hey Skiffy and Fireweed, I monitor the California quakes as well as Oregon, Alaska, and Wyoming. The Cascadia Subduction Zone is truly an accident waiting to happen. As far as the California quakes Skiffy I agree. If not a 5 forget it. Northern Cal.--San Fran is the accident waiting to happen again, but just like Floridians living at the beach, you don't live there waiting for a horrible quake. However, as we Floridians have learned the hurricanes did find us at the beach. Did we move?? No!
15. OGal
Excuse me, living in San Fran you don't live THERE waiting for a major quake----my brain is dead LOL
I have heard that the last big seismic wave to hit the West Coast was at about 9:30 PM on January 26,1700. How the story was pieced together is amazing in itself (see here). Such a quake and tsunami will happen again, and now, unlike then, there exist Seattle, Portland, and all the coastal towns up that way. There would be probably less than 60 minutes' warning ahead of the wave, much as there was in Banda Aceh. I leave you to draw your own conclusions.
Hey Lightning10, if you guys on the west coast get a big wave at least you have some hills nearby to climb! On some parts of the East coast here there's nothing! Not counting the tall buildings of course, but access to those is usually limited lol!

Thanks Pilotpix!
my new blog is up so come by and take a look and if any one live in SAN FRANCISCO CA or some where around there come to my blog this will be a very big storm is comeing your way with 70 80 90 and 100mph winds so get what ever you have to do now done or it may be too late and thank you for stoping by my blog
Hi there KRWZ, did your big storm arrive yet? Have a safe and happy new year. (and everyone else here too!)
I thought I knew a thing or two about hurricanes but I lurked here during the summer and Fall and learned a lot from the folks down in Florida and the Gulf. Now I'm learning about earthquakes from the Californians. It's all good. ;-)
This is also the day where one year ago Los Angeles got 5 1/2 inches of rain in 24 hours. The second highest amount of rain in the LA area in a 24 hour period ever.

I remeber that day. Where I live we only got 1 inch. The real heavy rain just stayed in Norhhern LA county.
EARTHQUAKE FANS - Check out StormyDee's blog - December Rocks - it's all earthquakes all the time.

To Inyo:

I was thinking primarily of the Los Angeles / Orange County basin where millions of people are "out there" with no mountains between them and the ocean.

Here are a couple examples of cities that are a few miles inland:

Westminster - 35' elevation
Fountain Valley - 28' elevation

I agree that Orange County is probably in the most danger, from either south or west - a Tsunami from Washington probably wouldn't make it down here as a strong wave.

To skiffygrrl

That's pretty much true. It's gotta get to a 5 before we'll even talk much about it.

24. Inyo
I agree, Califonia, a tsunami would devestate coastal orange county and a ways inland. It would also totally remove malibu from the map, but that's okay.. the hills looked better before they put the mansions in anyway.
Happy New Year Dr. Masters!!! Thank you for everything you do!

THIS IS A ZETA ALERT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Everyone needs to look far out in the eastern atlantic.......ZETA could be forming today! Lastest satellite imagery is showing good banding of thunderstorms..........
27. OGal
FSU, you are right. There she is----------------you don't suppose?? Enough is enough! Probably would not reach US due to fronts, but who knows. What a way to end 2005!
ZETA has formed...
29. OGal
Yep NHC has issued a special tropical weather statement. Here we go-----------------------------------!!
OMG. That. Is. Not. Possible. Except that it happened.

I mean...I just...ITS DECEMBER 29!!
Is this for real or a New Year's Eve JOKE??? Please be truthful...where are the radar links you ususally have to back up your stuff....

can't believe this...no way....please tell us you are kidding..........
Yeah, well, I guess this makes the different webmasters for various hurricane sites that wrapped everything up spin back into their chair to stare at the "hour or so" for the NHC.
WONT41 KNHC 301605
1100 AM EST FRI DEC 30 2005



Here is a satellite picture and here is the NHC page for it.
Yeah, that tsunami was terrible...and the same thing could happen right here in the USA!