Tsunami technology aids accurate forecast - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Tsunami technology aids accurate forecast

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

When the 8.3 magnitude quake shook Chile it was 12:54 p.m. Hawaii time.  In a matter of minutes the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center posted its first bulletin. At 1:04, the state was put under a tsunami watch.

"When you have a tsunami the energy doesn't go equally in all directions," PTWC's Chip McCreery said.

He said numerical models help geophysicists quickly forecast how a tsunami surge might impact Hawaii. Over the years tools have improved to determine the amount of energy an earthquake generates and where it's going. 

"That beam spreads out and it becomes a lot of tendrils of energy, because it's getting focused and de-focused by the shape of the sea floor," he said.

When an earthquake triggers a tsunami the Center relies on three computer models to project arrival time and surge height.  Each model has strengths and weaknesses.

"We need models that run quickly or we need pre-run models to use during events that we can just pull up a result that already exists," McCreery said.

Additional helpful tools are the series of deep ocean buoys that detect and measure a tsunami.

"They really give us really good data," McCreery said.  "It's the best data to constrain our models with."

The bulletins for Wednesday's event went from watch to advisory. McCreery said an advisory alert is used for lower level tsunami.

"It means there's a hazard in the water, on the beaches and in harbors," he said.

The Center relied on all three numerical models.  Arrival time and surge height were very accurate.

"Grading the models themselves for this event, they would get an A," McCreery said.

At 7:33 Thursday morning, PTWC issued its last bulletin for Hawaii.  The event will be another reference point for the center to use when forecasting the next tsunami.

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