In the past, I’ve blogged about warnings of eminent disaster that owe their presence almost completely to geography: one of the nation’s busiest airports is replete with signs encouraging visitors to take shelter in the restrooms in the event of a tornado. Most Chicagoans (and most Midwesterners in general) know from a very young age that, if a basement is not available when those municipal alarms go off without warning, the next best options are the typically windowless, reinforced walls of a bathroom and (if possible) its shower. But O’Hare International Airport (ORD) greets tends of thousands of visitors each day who are unfamiliar with safety protocol during cyclone level winds: after all, the majority of tornados take place in the eastern half of the United States, not just within the context of the country, but in the world overall. I’ll never forget the statistic I learned many years ago that only 20% of the world’s tornadoes take place in other countries beyond the U.S.—and someday I’ll do the research to cite that stat. How much do we want to bet that up to half of that remaining 20% is in Canada?
Now, nearly two thousand miles away from ORD, we witness an alert for another disaster.Nothing too profound about this one. This warning, from the harbor of Florence, Oregon, a town right off the Pacific Coast Highway about halfway up the state, captures it effectively. Not only is Florence coastal, but its part of the massive Cascadia Subduction Zone, a fault line almost as large as San Andreas but a lot less famous, primarily because it’s historically less seismically active and hosted far less of a vulnerable population. But the 600 miles of Pacific Northwest coast—stretching from Mendocino Bay in California up to Vancouver Island in British Columbia—must remain consistently aware of the threat.
That said—and I welcome someone with more information to correct me—the seismology that spawns a potential tsunami is far removed from the ground upon which I took these photos. Since underwater tectonic shifts are the primary instigator of a tsunami, it’s probably that that plates that create the Cascadia Subduction Zone remain a threat to Florence, but the fault would have to occur out in the Pacific to trigger the sort of massive wave activity that could decimate this town.
Florence is serious about it. Signs are everywhere.The fact that such a map, with elaborate details of the threat zones based upon on tsunami simulations, sits squarely on the boardwalk should reveal exactly the level of awareness this town wishes to promote. Is it necessary? Probably. Though not at the scale of ORD, Florence still hosts lots of visitors: it’s a revived village with an impeccably preserved commercial core.Florence is hardly teeming with tourists on a chilly November afternoon, but it’s obviously popular during the warmer weather. No doubt many of Florence’s guests have no idea what sort of threat a tsunami poses. Equally likely: more than a few of who come from tornado country. If you hear those sirens, it’s probably best to heed the signs and take cover—just don’t flee to the nearest restroom.