Sunday, April 17, 2011

Tsunami Brings Reality to the West Coast

SAN DIEGO – Friday, the tsunami generated by the Japanese earthquake smacked me and the Southwest corner with a dose of reality.

I had risen early to join my friends at the Sea ‘n Air Golf Course on the North Island Naval Air Station. Before leaving, I checked internet emails, news, and sports and learned of the 8.8 earthquake and the tsunami threat.

I could not fathom an earthquake of that size. I knew the devastating 1906 San Francisco earthquake and the 1904 Northridge earthquake were 8.25 and 6.7 on the Richter scale, respectively. I also knew the Richter scale was a logarithmic measure of the shaking amplitude and increases were exponential.

Wikipedia states, “…a difference in magnitude of 1.0 is equivalent to a factor of 31.6, or (101.0)(3 / 2). But that is a number to which I cannot relate. I do know the Northridge earthquake gave a significant jolt to our home, which is approximately 130 miles from Northridge. My mind just could not get a grasp on an 8.8 earthquake.

Even though I knew an earthquake’s destructive potential, I dismissed the tsunami. Such a possibility seemed to be an over reaction. I proceeded to my golfing rendezvous.

En route, I listened to KNX, the Los Angeles all-news radio station. The CBS affiliate reported the aftermath in Japan and the impact on local residents, as well as tracking the tsunami.

One reporter was in LA’s “Little Tokyo,” the Japanese section of the city. The background noise was chaotic as local residents attempted to find out the extent of damage and telling the reporter how they could not contact their relatives.

In a sidebar to the news reports, a reporter stationed in Newport Beach, a high-end coastal community between Los Angeles and San Diego, was at that beach. He reported a crowd of people had gathered to observe the tsunami when it hit the west coast.

I considered them crazy and turned off the radio as I reached the base security gate. After all, if the tsunami did reach the coast with energy enough to be observed, the last place I would want to be would be on the beach. It then occurred to me the golf course I was playing runs, yep, along the beach.

Again, I dismissed the possibility of the tsunami generated in Japan reaching the West coast with any degree of energy remaining. The epicenter of the earthquake is almost 6,000 miles from San Diego.

A fellow golfer reported the tsunami had produced a two-foot surge in Guam, 1500 miles from the source. We discussed the possible effect on our coastline in the Southwest corner. San Diego has a shallow sea floor slope, and shallow gradients expend the energy of a tsunami. We once again assured ourselves there was no worry.

The speed of the tsunami swell is around 500 miles per hour. The course marshal joined us on the tenth tee with the news the tsunami had arrived about 15 minutes earlier with no visible impact.

The marshal’s news was flawed.

San Diego experienced an approximate one-foot surge. A number of vessels were damaged, one overturned by the strong current. A barge in a marina near Sea World broke loose damaging several boats and yachts. It was reported a lifeguard brought a woman and two children to safety after they were swept into the water while exploring tide pools.

The original damage along the West Coast was initially estimated to be around $50 Million.

KNSD, the San Diego NBC television affiliate reported, “Many people ignored local authority warnings and came to San Diego’s shoreline with their cameras or surfboards expecting a show. Despite water receding by as much as 3 feet in some areas, the majority walked away disappointed.” They were as crazy as those in Newport Beach.

Another report indicated the carrier U.S.S. Ronald Reagan, the destroyer Preble, and the cruiser Chancellorsville, all home ported in San Diego are off of Honshu, Japan, already providing disaster relief.

Although I should not have dismissed the warnings so blithely, I do have ample respect for tsunamis from my mariner knowledge. As it is with hurricanes, a ship is better off at sea.

But this is the first tsunami I’ve experienced first hand.

I hope it’s my last.

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