Tsunami in Gulf could happen, but likely wouldn't be very powerful

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by Bill Capo / Eyewitness News

wwltv.com

Posted on March 11, 2011 at 8:31 PM

NEW ORLEANS - It was a mild day outside, so the forecasters at the National Weather Service in Slidell could watch the tsunamis from Japan sweep across the Pacific Ocean.

"Seeing the tidal surges that they were showing that were eight feet above normal in Crescent City, California is just, it's fascinating," said Lead Forecaster Christopher Bannan. "It really starts to relate to us when we need to be concerned with storm surge."

If there was a tsunami south of the Crescent City in the Gulf Of Mexico, the warnings would be issued by this office, which coordinates with experts in Alaska.

"For mainland United States including the Gulf Coast and Atlantic, Alaska's tsunami warning center up in Fairbanks, Alaska actually has warning responsibility," noted Warning Coordination Meteorologist Frank Revitte. 

The most active area in earthquake terms is Puerto Rico, which had 18 small quakes over the last week, and large ones have occurred as far back as the 1500s. But simulations show that while the waves would travel across the Atlantic, it would be tough for a devastating tsunami to reach the Gulf Coast.

"The only way that energy from this thing is going to get to the Gulf is through the Florida Straits here, which is a very small opening, or over and through the Yucatan Channel."

And the models predict that even if a tsunami from the Puerto Rico area did get into the Gulf, residents on Grand Isle might not even notice it when it arrived six hours later.

"The height would be I think ten to twelve centimeters, which gets it down to four to six inches."

So what are the chances of there being a sizable earthquake in the Gulf of Mexico producing a tsunami?
Well, believe it or not, there was a big earthquake in the Gulf in 2006.

It was in the middle of the Gulf, and it was a 6.0, and there was no tsunami."

One spot they do watch is off the coast of Veracruz, Mexico, but the studies show even a tsunami from there would be only about a foot high when it reached the Gulf Coast. So there isn't much of a chance, but the scientists here are watching, just in case.

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