Tsunami tsignage: where to turn when the tidal tsurge tstrikes.

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.IMG_0448Nothing 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.IMG_0465IMG_0463The 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.tsunami warning in Florence, OregonFlorence 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.

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8 thoughts on “Tsunami tsignage: where to turn when the tidal tsurge tstrikes.

  1. Brian M

    I am beginning the process of thinking of retirement (as a 28 year PERS employee, I do have a bit of a nest egg). One consideration: The Hayward and San Andreas faults are well overdue for another “big one”. It might be good to check out someplace not quite as threatened, although living through, for example, a midwestern winter and humid summer would be as devastating to me and my outdoor oriented lifestyle as an earthquake. 🙂

    Reply
    1. AmericanDirt

      I’ve always found the toughest selling point on various regions, with their sundry natural hazards, is the level of warning we receive. Having lived through (and evacuated from) a few hurricanes, they’re tedious, but we have such meteorological resources that we have ample warning. Tornadoes are much more predictable, but Midwesterners certainly are attuned to the climatic conditions that spawn them. In developed countries, tsunamis I would presume give about the same warning as a tornado, which is very little, but at least people know which direction to flee. Earthquakes still seem the worst in that regard. Whenever I’m in California, I think about it at least once every few hours. I guess we all have our predilections, and that helps explain in large part why we spatialize ourselves the way we do. And the nearly 40M people who call California home have made your cost-benefit analysis (often unconsciously) and made more or less the same decision you have…it’s still worth it. Or not worth it to leave?

      Reply
      1. Chris B

        Eric, we now get a day’s warning of high-threat weather, way more than a tsunami.

        I was in the Bay Area on business when there was a tsunami warning decades ago. Later that night the local news showed people having beach parties…this was before the Indian Ocean disaster of the 00s.

        I’d wager that The Weather Channel has its highest viewership in the Midwest because of our nearly-year-round possibility of severe weather (t-storms, hail, tornado, snow/ice).

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        1. AmericanDirt

          Is it a full day? Impressive. It’s been a long time since I’ve lived routinely in an area with “Tornado Watch” versus “Warning”. If a tornado is actually present (“warning”), we still have to contend with the highly unpredictable path, making it much more difficult to know when to flee–or what direction to flee to. Compare that with a tsunami, and it’s generally obvious where people should run, as manifest by these signs. But the warning system for tsunamis was probably pretty weak, at least until that 2004 one that hit Sumatra, which I believe remains the most devastating natural disaster to strike in many people’s lifetimes. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if many English speakers didn’t know exactly what a tsunami was until that event.

          Reply
  2. Hal O

    Eric..as usual I enjoy your articles. You might want to edit this section….Since underwater tectonic shifts are the primary instigator of a tsunami, it’s probably that the 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.

    Reply
    1. AmericanDirt

      Thanks Hal. I thought about that and maybe it isn’t clear as currently worded. I knew it’s an underwater fault that triggers a tsunami; what I don’t know is if Cascadia Subduction Zone extends into the Pacific. Do you know the answer? Perhaps it has a different name out there?

      Reply

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