We’re all aware of Mother Nature’s potential for devastation. Still, despite all we know, nature continues to bewilder us. The latest curiosity—a tsunami striking U.S. East Coast last week.
On June 13 people observed this shocking event along the eastern seaboard. Instrumentation too picked up the disturbance: 30 tide gauges ranging from Puerto Rico to Bermuda to Atlantic City all detected the change in ocean amplitude.
The Tsunami Strikes
Brian Coen and three friends were fishing in Barnegat Lighthouse State Park when the tsunami occurred. His description of the wave had the distinctive features of a tsunami, such as the water rushing out at high speed, causing the shoreline to recede. This part of a tidal wave is troublesome because it often lures curious observers into the newly revealed underwater terrain.
Also like a tsunami, the wave spanned the entire mouth of the Barnegat inlet in an unbroken line and struck with incredible force. The wave was reported as 6 feet high. People often assume tsunamis are monstrously high. It’s not the size of the wave, but its unrelenting power that wreaks havoc.
As far away as Rhode Island, Chuck Ebersole noted an unusually fast current tear through the bay. It was so strong in fact it ripped a boat cleat off the dock. Some beach goers in Florida have said they felt significant wave changes.
Usually tsunamis are caused by submarine earthquakes, hence the reason why they occur most often about the Pacific Ring of Fire (roughly 80% of the time). There was no earthquake in this instant leading scientist to look upward for the culprit.
Though it’s not concrete, meteorologists point to the weather phenomenon ‘derecho’ as the culprit. A low-end ‘derecho’ storm had crossed from the Midwest to the Northeast the night leading up to the wave. The storm caused strong atmospheric fluctuations that may have caused the wave.
So much of it is still mysterious. Though it should be remembered that tsunamis have ravaged the Eastern U.S. in the past: the 1755 Cape Ann earthquake off the coast of Massachusetts caused a tidal wave as did the 1929 Grand Banks disaster.
But if this wasn’t caused by something seismic then it is a class of phenomenon called meteotsunamis—tidal waves caused by the weather. This the thinking behind blaming the ‘derecho’ for its occurrence. In fact, these kinds of waves are well-known across the globe. Different cultures even have names for them: abiki (Japanese), marrobbio (Italian) and rissaga (Catalan) to name a few.
The verdict is still out, however, as scientists continue to study this in the following weeks. It’s alarming and humbling to find out how truly vulnerable we are to nature’s fury.
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