A tsunami advisory has been issued for Hawaii and parts of the California coast following a devastating 8.3-magnitude earthquake that occurred off the northern coast of Chile on Wednesday. Due to the strong seismic activity, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center originally issued an alert for Hawaii, advising that there could be a chance that a tsunami could hit because of the natural disaster.
However, authorities later downgraded the alert (warning) to an advisory (watch), after subsequent data suggested a tsunami hitting the islands would be unlikely. However, because the earthquake still caused significant changes in sea level and currents, individuals in the area have been warned to stay away from the shores.
According to the Center, Hawaii should expect the tsunami’s effects to arrive at around 6 AM PDT Thursday. A similar advisory was issued for southern and central California, which encompasses roughly 300 miles along the coast from Orange County to San Luis Obispo County. In California, residents should expect changes in sea conditions starting around 4:45 AM PDT Thursday, initiating in the southern coastal regions and working upward toward the central areas.
As maritime lawyers, we know all too well the danger that strong currents can pose for swimmers, boaters, and anyone else enjoying the open waters. Strong tides can create rip currents, which can sweep people under water, causing them to suffer devastating injuries and possible drowning accidents. Though some, like avid surfers, may be tempted to hit the waves at this time due to their large size, ocean conditions are in no way safe. It is best to stay away from the water until otherwise directed by authorities.
Just because the initial alert was downgraded to an advisory doesn’t mean people in Hawaii and California are in the clear. Though less likely, there is still a chance that a tsunami can hit in any of these areas.
“A watch is for everybody to be aware of it, that it’s a possibility,” said Chevy Chevalier, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Honolulu. “A warning means it’s happening right now or it’s imminent.”
In Chile, five people have already been reported dead following the devastating earthquake. Tsunami waves also caused flooding in several towns. When an earthquake hits beneath sea level, the sea floor shifts, disrupting water levels. However, whether or not an actual tsunami develops depends on several factors, such as the strength of the earthquake, the direction that it causes tectonic plates to shift, and the magnitude of the earthquake’s aftershock.
Though this particular earthquake certainly had the capability of generating a massive tsunami that could reach Hawaii and California, luckily, large waves are not expected to hit as of now.
Meanwhile, Hawaii state officials have closed down several beaches and parks as a precaution and are standing by in case further updates are issued by the warning center.