- A tsunami is a series of ocean waves caused by an underwater earthquake, landslide, or volcanic eruption. More rarely, a tsunami can be generated by a giant meteor impact with the ocean.
- These waves can reach heights of over 100 feet.
- About 80 percent of tsunamis happen within the Pacific Ocean’s “Ring of Fire.”
- The first wave of a tsunami is usually not the strongest, successive waves get bigger and stronger.
- Tsunamis can travel at speeds of about 500 miles or 805 kilometers an hour, almost as fast as a jet plane.
- The states in the U.S. at greatest risk for tsunamis are Hawaii, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and California.
- If caught by a tsunami wave, it is better not to swim, but rather to grab a floating object and allow the current to carry you.
- Tsunamis retain their energy, meaning they can travel across entire oceans with limited energy loss.
- Tsunami means “harbor wave” in Japanese (tsu = harbor + nami = wave), reflecting Japan’s tsunami-prone history.
- Scientists can accurately estimate the time when a tsunami will arrive almost anywhere around the world based on calculations using the depth of the water, distances from one place to another, and the time that the earthquake or other event occurred.
- Hawaii is the U.S. state at greatest risk for a tsunami – they get about one per year and a damaging one every seven years. The biggest tsunami that occurred Hawaii happened on April 1, 1946, where the coast of Hilo Island was hit with 30 foot waves coming in at 500 miles per hour. 170 people died as a result.
- In 2004, the Indian Ocean tsunami was caused by an earthquake that is thought to have had the energy of 23,000 atomic bombs. Within hours of the earthquake in 2004, killer waves radiating from the epicenter slammed into the coastline of 11 countries, damaging countries from east Africa to Thailand. By the end of the day, the tsunami had already killed 150,000 people. The final death toll was 283,000.
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Sources: National Geographic, Bureau of Meteorology, FEMA, NOAA,