What Would Happen If A Tsunami Hit California? Here's Your Answer

Matt Lillywhite

Several states along the West Coast are vulnerable to Tsunamis, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (a government agency). "Approximately 28 tsunamis with runup greater than 1 meter have occurred along the U.S. West Coast since 1812." The US Geological Agency also says, "large tsunamis have occurred in the United States and will undoubtedly occur again."

One of the most damaging tsunamis occurred in 2011, according to The LA Times. "An earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan traveled across the Pacific Ocean, causing $100 million of damage to California harbors and ports."

Here's a breakdown of what might plausibly happen if another big tsunami struck California:

Evacuation Orders Would Be Issued.

Some obvious signs of an incoming tsunami are strong ground shaking and a loud ocean roar, per the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services. Another common sign of a tsunami is the ocean receding away from shore.

In the event of a tsunami, evacuation orders would be issued by relevant authorities. So, if you are in a vulnerable location (such as the beach) and experience an earthquake, it's a good idea to move inland or to higher ground immediately. Even if a tsunami doesn't arrive, it's always better to be safe than sorry.

The Impact Of A Tsunami In California Would Be Devastating.

"Most tsunami damage and destruction is caused by flooding, wave impacts, erosion, strong currents, and floating debris (e.g., trees, structures, vehicles, and other things that can act like battering rams)," according to The National Weather Service. "The water can be just as dangerous, if not more so, as it returns to the sea, taking debris and people with it."

Here's a map of places in California that are vulnerable to tsunamis:

Map of tsunami hazard areasCalifornia Department of Conservation

It's also worth noting that tsunamis can pose health risks, per the CDC. "As the ocean water comes ashore, drinking water wells can become submerged and potentially contaminated with microorganisms (bacteria, viruses, parasites) and chemicals that can adversely affect human health."

What You Can Do To Prepare For A Future Tsunami.

To begin, it's a good idea to know if you live (or work) in an area that's vulnerable to tsunamis. The California Governor's Office of Emergency Services has a great online tool that allows you to type in an address and view hazards in your local area (such as earthquakes, fires, and tsunamis).

The Red Cross recommends having an emergency preparedness kit so you have some supplies in the event of a natural disaster. It may include:

  • Cash
  • A flashlight
  • A first aid kit
  • A map of the local area
  • Copies of important documents
  • Non-perishable food that's easy to prepare
  • Approximately one gallon per day of drinking water

The National Weather Service also suggests planning evacuation routes from home, work, and other frequently visited locations. "Learn about existing evacuation routes or map out routes from home, work, and other places you visit often to safe places on high ground or inland (away from the water). Plan to evacuate on foot if you can; roads may be impassable due to damage, closures, or traffic jams."

Are you concerned about tsunamis in California? Leave a comment with your thoughts. And if you think more people should read this article, share it on social media.

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Matt Lillywhite covers politics, the economy, and kitchen-table issues that matter.


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