It’s turning out to be a busy weekend for scientists at NOAA’s National Weather Service (NWS) and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).
The National Weather Service has spent the last few days tracking Hurricane Sandy, which is now projected to make landfall somewhere along the mid-Atlantic, perhaps off the coast of Virginia or Delaware.
Hurricane Sandy is currently offshore of the Carolinas. At present, it is passing to the southeast of Charleston. It is not expected to make landfall there, but both states are seeing storm surges.
Meteorologists are concerned the hurricane could collide with an Arctic cold front heading westward, creating a mammoth “Frankenstorm” that could cause flooding, power outages, property damage, and risk to life and limb.
The U.S. Geological Survey is assisting with the hurricane tracking effort by deploying hundreds of sensors at key locations.
“In the hours and days before Irene made its epic sweep up the eastern seaboard last year, USGS deployed a record number of storm-surge sensors that yielded important new information on storm tides along some of the most populated coastline in the United States,” said USGS Director Marcia McNutt in a press release. “Now with Sandy we have the opportunity to test and improve predictive models of coastal zone impact based on what we previously learned.”
The potential for significant travel disruptions and property damage are already causing TV networks to describe the event as a “once in a generation” storm. (Seems like we get one of those every year, but of course, the media loves to play up these kind of things. Storms are good for ratings.)
That’s not to say this storm is inconsequential. To the contrary: it could be very destructive and anyone in its path should prepare for the worst. It’s better to be safe than sorry. To that end, many mid-Atlantic governors are declaring states of emergency. Amtrak is cancelling trains and airlines are preparing to cancel flights. Southwest is offering its passengers the opportunity to rebook already, in advance of the storm’s anticipated arrival.
But the NWS, USGS and their partner agencies are now dealing with something else: the aftermath of a 7.7 magnitude earthquake off the coast of British Columbia. The shallow-focus quake hit at 8:04 PM Pacific Time, one hundred and twenty-six miles south southwest of Prince Rupert, British Columbia, in the Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte) Islands. The precise location of the epicenter was listed as 52.769° N 131.927° W.
Scientists at USGS have published a preliminary assessment of the quake.
This earthquake is likely associated with relative motion across the Queen Charlotte fault system offshore of British Columbia, Canada. Studies of tectonics in this region suggest plate motions are taken up by strike slip faulting parallel to the plate boundary, accompanied by lesser amounts of thrust motion to accommodate the oblique nature of the plate motion vector between the two plates with respect to the orientation of the main plate boundary fault structure. This oblique component of plate motion may involve either underthrusting of the western edge of the Pacific Plate beneath North America, or be taken up on crustal faults within the North America plate. The October 28th earthquake is consistent with either scenario.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center has issued a tsunami warning for British Columbia and Alaska, and a tsunami advisory for Washington, Oregon, and northern California. Here’s an explanation of the difference:
A TSUNAMI WARNING MEANS… ALL COASTAL RESIDENTS IN THE WARNING AREA WHO ARE NEAR THE BEACH OR IN LOW-LYING REGIONS SHOULD MOVE IMMEDIATELY INLAND TO HIGHER GROUND AND AWAY FROM ALL HARBORS AND INLETS INCLUDING THOSE SHELTERED DIRECTLY FROM THE SEA. THOSE FEELING THE EARTH SHAKE… SEEING UNUSUAL WAVE ACTION… OR THE WATER LEVEL RISING OR RECEDING MAY HAVE ONLY A FEW MINUTES BEFORE THE TSUNAMI ARRIVAL AND SHOULD MOVE IMMEDIATELY. HOMES AND SMALL BUILDINGS ARE NOT DESIGNED TO WITHSTAND TSUNAMI IMPACTS. DO NOT STAY IN THESE STRUCTURES.
ALL RESIDENTS WITHIN THE WARNED AREA SHOULD BE ALERT FOR INSTRUCTIONS BROADCAST FROM THEIR LOCAL CIVIL AUTHORITIES. A TSUNAMI HAS BEEN RECORDED.
A TSUNAMI ADVISORY MEANS THAT A TSUNAMI CAPABLE OF PRODUCING STRONG CURRENTS OR WAVES DANGEROUS TO PEOPLE IN OR VERY NEAR THE WATER IS EXPECTED. SIGNIFICANT WIDESPREAD INUNDATION IS NOT EXPECTED FOR AREAS UNDER AN ADVISORY. CURRENTS MAY BE HAZARDOUS TO SWIMMERS… BOATS… AND COASTAL STRUCTURES AND MAY CONTINUE FOR SEVERAL HOURS AFTER THE INITIAL WAVE ARRIVAL.
A tsunami warning has also been issued for Hawaii. Hawaii residents and visitors are urged to get off the beach and move to higher ground. The first tsunami wave is expected to reach the islands at 10:28 PM local time (Hawaii is several hours behind Pacific Time).
Here is a graphic representation of NOAA’s tsunami propagation forecast:
As we approach Election Day, these events are a reminder that our federal government plays a crucial role in emergency preparedness. Were it not for agencies like the National Weather Service, National Hurricane Center, and the U.S. Geological Survey, we would not be in a position to safeguard lives and minimize damage. Unfortunately, the budget proposed by Mitt Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan, would slash funding for agencies like NOAA’s National Weather Service.
That’s something all Americans should keep in mind when heading to the polls or sitting down at the kitchen table to vote.