Editor's Note: Tsunami-complacency a real danger

Richard Wiens, The Triplicate

Saturday's tsunami scare brings another chance to remind Del Norters: If there is breaking news of local importance - and what could be more important than a possible tsunami? - it will be posted and updated when appropriate at triplicate.com .

Triplicate Assistant Editor Matt Durkee started monitoring developments shortly after a monster earthquake shook Chile late Friday. When the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a tsunami advisory for the West Coast, Durkee drove to the office and posted the news online at 3:20 a.m.

A few hours later, staff writer Adam Madison started talking to

local authorities and posting updates. By then, we knew the estimated

arrival time and severity of the waves coming toward Crescent City.

That allowed us to let people know that no significant inundation was


Of course you could have also gone straight to NOAA's Web site. The

advantage of checking The Triplicate and/or listening to local radio

stations is that you can find out what our authorities are saying -

without flooding emergency telephone lines.

Saturday's long-range tsunami forecast showed how far technology has

advanced since 1964, when Crescent City only had a couple hours of

less-specific warning before killer waves arrived from a quake in


Not that such forecasting is an exact science even now. NOAA issued

a tsunami warning Saturday for Hawaii, where destructive waves were

feared. As their anticipated 1 p.m. arrival approached, CNN showed live

scenes of the evacuated beaches, giving viewers the impression they

were about to witness something dramatic. I was pretty sure they'd be


It may have been the first time a tsunami's arrival was so

breathlessly anticipated on live television, hurricane-coverage-style.

But the sea stayed relatively calm - even if a big wave had arrived,

the rolling flood might have been underwhelming to a TV audience used

to graphic footage of catastrophes.

The scariest sights I saw were narrow roads along ocean bluffs jammed with parked and slow-moving cars. I hate traffic jams.

Unfortunately, such a well-publicized false alarm could make some

people less tsunami-wary. Even though NOAA correctly predicted only

tiny swells on the West Coast, the tidal wave buzz had curious people

flocking to the coast. Viewpoints along Pebble Beach were full.

Up in Seaside, Ore., police fought a losing battle to keep people

off the sand. Tsunami expert Patrick Corcoran of the Sea Grant program

was there, trying to make it a teachable moment. "These distant-event

tsunamis are really nothing, and we tend to overemphasize them,"

Corcoran said. "If people come away from this thinking tsunamis on the

Oregon Coast mean licking ice cream cones and strolling on the

promenade here, that's a terrible mistake."

Authorities didn't close the beaches in Crescent City, but it just

seemed like good role-modeling to stay off them with a tsunami advisory

in effect.

The frustrated Corcoran may have forgotten about Del Norte's

devastation of '64 as he dismissed the danger of "distant-event

tsunamis," but he still made an important point.

Detailed tsunami forecasts come hours in advance only when the

earthquake happens far away. That's why experts say if you feel a

significant quake, you should head for high ground immediately.

The Del Norte Triplicate
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Tuesday October 25, 2016

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