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Science

Meteotsunami, Tsunami’s Smaller Cousin, Makes Big Waves On Our Shores

meteotsunami_noaa.jpg
NOAA
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Long Island Sound is a hotbed of miniature tsunamis, called meteotsunamis. That’s according to a study from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Meteotsunamis are small, but they can have outsized effects.

Unlike a regular tsunami, a meteotsunami’s wave is just a foot or two high. And while undersea earthquakes cause regular tsunamis, meteotsunamis are caused by the weather. That’s where its name comes from – meteorological tsunami.

“Fast-moving storm systems might have sharp air pressure differences or sharp changes in wind speeds, and as those storm systems propagate over the ocean, they can cause a wave,” said Greg Dusek, a NOAA scientist.

Dusek and his team looked at more than 20 years of data along the East Coast. Long Island Sound, the Carolinas and Florida topped the list.

“The summertime thunderstorms tend to roll right over the Sound and generate waves while they do that. Winter storms, especially nor’easters, can impact the Sound quite a bit.”

The waters on the Connecticut side of the Sound were especially turbulent. New Haven showed an average of more than five meteotsunamis a year. The region also saw some of the tallest waves from meteotsunamis.

“It’s the orientation of the bay there, relative to the Sound. And it just tends to amplify the waves even more than you might see along the open coast.”

Dusek says meteotsunamis are often not that dangerous by themselves. But pair them up with a strong storm, and “you can have meteotsunamis occuring on top of that storm surge and potentially raising the water levels even higher than you might normally expect.”

Dusek says his team plans to dig into data on specific storms, like hurricanes and nor’easters, to see how they lead to meteotsunamis.

Unlike a regular tsunami, a meteotsunami’s wave is just a foot or two high. And while undersea earthquakes cause regular tsunamis, meteotsunamis are caused by the weather. That’s where its name comes from – meteorological tsunami.

“Fast-moving storm systems might have sharp air pressure differences or sharp changes in wind speeds, and as those storm systems propagate over the ocean, they can cause a wave,” said Greg Dusek, a NOAA scientist.

Dusek and his team looked at more than 20 years of data along the East Coast. Long Island Sound, the Carolinas and Florida topped the list.

“The summertime thunderstorms tend to roll right over the Sound and generate waves while they do that. Winter storms, especially nor’easters, can impact the Sound quite a bit.”

The waters on the Connecticut side of the Sound were especially turbulent. New Haven showed an average of more than five meteotsunamis a year. The region also saw some of the tallest waves from meteotsunamis.

“It’s the orientation of the bay there, relative to the Sound. And it just tends to amplify the waves even more than you might see along the open coast.”

Dusek says meteotsunamis are often not that dangerous by themselves. But pair them up with a strong storm, and “you can have meteotsunamis occuring on top of that storm surge and potentially raising the water levels even higher than you might normally expect.”

Dusek says his team plans to dig into data on specific storms, like hurricanes and nor’easters, to see how they lead to meteotsunamis.