Tsunami Warning Center issues tsunami advisory following Tonga volcanic eruption

Published: Jan. 15, 2022 at 9:00 AM AKST|Updated: Jan. 15, 2022 at 10:44 AM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - A tsunami advisory was issued by the National Tsunami Warning Center early Saturday morning following the eruption of an undersea volcano near the Pacific nation of Tonga.

The advisory was issued for coastlines all the way from Attu Island to the border of California and Mexico, and has since been canceled for Southeast Alaska and Southcentral Alaska. The Aleutian Islands and the Alaska Peninsula are were the last Alaskan regions under a tsunami advisory, but all tsunami advisories for Alaska have been canceled as of 4 p.m. Sunday.

Dave Snider is the tsunami warning coordinator at the National Tsunami Warning Center in Palmer, and said that unusual and strong currents should be expected for a large part of the Alaska coastline, even after the tsunami advisory subsides. A tsunami advisory is issued for potential waves of up to 3 feet, and tsunami warnings are issued for waves 3 feet and above.

“It’s really important to not dismiss the word advisory as this is really not that big of a deal. It is a big deal,” Snider said. “A significant amount of ocean water was disturbed and is impacting a wide and very long coastline of an entire continent this morning and gosh, if that doesn’t humble us by watching what mother nature can do, I’m not sure what I can do for you there. But I stand impressed this morning and I hope other people are too.”

A n underwater volcano near Tonga has put the entire West Coast of North America from Attu...
A n underwater volcano near Tonga has put the entire West Coast of North America from Attu Island to the border of California and Mexico under a tsunami advisory(Melissa Frey)

The Associated Press reports waves arriving in Hawaii ranged from 1.6 feet to 2.7 feet, and that waves pushed boats up on the docks. No immediate reports of injuries or extent of the damage was available in Tonga due to loss of internet connectivity, according to the AP.

“For tsunami advisories — which is what we’re dealing with right now — we’re expecting levels up to 3 feet,” Snider continued. “That’s still pretty significant, and if you are someone that owns a small boat in a marina or a bay, that’s enough to pick the boat up and move it enough that it’s going to cause significant damage.”

An underwater volcanic eruption near Tonga has put the West Coast of North America from Attu...
An underwater volcanic eruption near Tonga has put the West Coast of North America from Attu Island to the border of Mexico and California under a tsunami advisory.(Melissa Frey)

The Hunga Tonga Hunga ha’apai volcano eruption has also triggered a tsunami warning for the entire archipelago of Tonga. The largest measured wave to arrive in Alaska was 2.8 feet in King Cove. The tsunami advisory remains in effect for Alaska while the advisory for Hawaii has ended. The Hunga Tonga volcano erupted on Friday evening Alaska time, as the nation of Tonga is 22 hours ahead of Alaska. Rumblings from the Hunga Tonga eruption were heard between 3:30 and 4 a.m. as far north as Fairbanks.

Snider said that the warning center has been updating warning points across the state to help keep Alaskan communities safe.

“One of the things that’ll be different about this event — I think because we had an advisory out from the Aleutians all the way down to the Mexico border — is that a lot of people are paying attention to this, and I think that’s great. That will help folks remember that tsunamis can impact our Western U.S. coastline all the way up through Canada and Alaska and hopefully they’ll look into their tsunami risk a little bit more and figure out what do I need to do, did I do the right thing last night and this morning,” Snider said.

Correction: This article has been updated to correct tsunami warning to tsunami advisory, and to include additional information.

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