Saturday, February 27, 2010

Tsunami day!

It's a bit like a "snow day" only a bit wetter....:0) I shouldn't joke, it could have been serious, and Hawaii, wonderfully and efficiently, took it very seriously. We've had a number of tsunami warnings this season, but the difference with this one, is they actually detected a wave in the middle of the Pacific, which meant it went from a warning to a reality. My day started with a 5am phone call from Cape Cod. A friend back there that works for SEA was calling me to see if I could help get their boat out of the harbor because a tsunami was coming. This was the first I had heard of the tsunami.

I checked in with the Red Cross at this point, as I knew we would be gathering to plan what, if anything, was needed later in the day. They were happy for me to put myself on the watch list for the evening, to continue with shelters if any were set up while I was offshore.

So I gulped down some breakfast, quickly checked the tsunami warning system here to look for the extent (at that point they were warning of 2m surge) and jump in the car - just in time for the first sirens to go off at 6am. I got down to the dock just as the sun was rising. The rest in pictures.

Sunrise over Snug Harbor in downtown Honolulu. I and three other volunteers got there at 6.30am and we had a slot to leave harbor at 7am - this slot was vital, as things were hectic, all the boats were trying to get out, as in a tsunami, the safest place to be is at sea. Any boats left behind risk being slammed around in their moorings and tipped over in the waves - at sea, the large waves don't appear until close to shore, so you just ride over the top.

Sunrise over the wheel house (yes I know there is no house, but that is still what it's called). The SEA vessel Robert C Seamans is a 134ft Brigantine sailing ship used as a floating classroom for undergraduates from all over the USA. It's being docked here in Hawaii for 6 months, as they've been hit by the recession, so had to cancel their spring program. SEA runs out of Woods Hole, so I know many folks who have done SEA, and over the last few months i've been helping put together a short cruise for Hawaii students, hopefully at the end of May.

Sailing out of the harbor (well, steaming, not sailing, unfortunately the sails had been packed away for storage, so we were entirely under steam). Usually they have a crew of 30 people do this. We had 6. Their minimum to sail is 4. We were super busy at the cast off and docking, so I would personally, hate to try and do it with 4!

Honolulu from the water.

We sat at at the 1000m depth line (about ten miles off shore) - as at this depth the tsunami would hardly be felt at all. There were lots of boats out, everyone who could left the dock. I was texting with some students who have sail boats and were also out on the water. At this point we decided it would be fun to turn on some of the science equipment, so we had some current meters going and a bottom sounder. We were all outside when "it hit", so we don't know yet whether it showed much, but it'll be interesting to look at that data later!

The moment "it hit". In reality, it was just a 2ft surge that hit Oahu, and a 6ft one that hit the Big Island, so a good thing, not quite a false alarm, but no major damage done. We did actually feel it which was amazing. For about ten minutes the water got choppy and confused, and then went right back to steady and calm. Eeeery.

Heading back in. I like that I live in the time that I do. We were not out of phone reception at all, so on my iPhone I could get emails and updates, so before we headed in I knew my car would still be there, and the islands had got off lightly. I can't imagine what it would have been like to head in to no news, not knowing what we would find. But I guess in that time there never would have been a warning in the first place, and maybe there would have been a few swept out to sea this morning.

Now thoughts turn to Chile. Everyone I know there has checked in which is fantastic, but there is still a lot of damage we do not know about as yet.


DDd said...

Glad you and all your possessions (minus the TV) are safe and sound. It sounds like Kate may have an interesting cruise... sounds way cooler to me to investigate an earthquake than do Tow-Yos 24/7! I think it is pretty cool that you could 'see' the tsunami pass you. One of my students asked about that last semester... now I have an eye witness account. very cool!

nicola@which name? said...

so interesting! you are an amazing friend!

bsa said...

What a wonderfully full entry, answering so very many questions. Your photos are wonderful! thank heavens you remembered your camera. I was glued to CNN for much of the morning--like you taking full advantage of technology, knowing that I might actually see a tsunami. The commentary focused, many times, on what a glorious day to be outdoors, that the beaches would have been packed, that Ala Moana would have been crowded, etc. had it not been for the warnings. What a practice drill. There were coastal warnings out here for 1:40 p.m. but I don't know if there were any results. I am glad that you also called the Red Cross. Now to send enrgy and resources to Chile, while not forgetting Haiti.