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Florida Geological Survey - Hazards - Tsunamis
Page heading: Tsunamis

Tsunamis are sea waves that have the potential to be highly destructive. In the deep ocean the waves appear to be small but as they approach the shore they can become extremely large. Although they have been called “tidal waves” tsunamis are not related to tides. They may be generated by earthquakes, volcanic explosions, meteorite impacts, or underwater landslides. The term “teletsunami” is used occasionally to refer to tsunamis generated by events that are distant from the area impacted by the wave.

The possibility of a tsunami impacting the Atlantic or Gulf Coasts of Florida is considered to be remote. This is because most tsunamis are associated with major earthquakes. The Atlantic Ocean basin is not ringed by large faults as is the Pacific, which is associated both with earthquakes and tsunamis. It is thought that rare underwater landslides would pose a greater risk in the Atlantic Ocean. The Caribbean region has a history of both earthquakes and tsunamis. They do not appear to have impacted Florida’s coastlines. However because of the horrific tsunami that impacted South East Asia in December 2004 and in recognition of the fact that a tsunami occurrence is possible, the Federal government has decided to expand its warning system to include the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts of the United States.

Although it is highly unlikely that a tsunami will impact Florida, it is not impossible. Floridians may also travel to locations where tsunamis are more likely. It is vital to know (and instruct children) that if the ocean suddenly recedes from the shore do not stand and stare. It is necessary immediately to run uphill or away from the shore and go to the highest location possible which may mean up the stairs of a substantial building. Everyone should be aware that no matter where in the world they are, if the sea is observed to recede from the shore, they should immediately run for high ground.


What is the risk of a Tsunami in Florida?

  The risk of a tsunami striking Florida is considered to be low. The website for the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration lists the following states as being especially vulnerable to tsunamis, in addition to the U.S. Caribbean Islands: Hawaii, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and California. There is currently no tsunami warning system for the east coast of the United States.


General information on various aspects of tsunamis may be found at the following site: http://earthquake.usgs.gov/learn/topics/topics.php?topicID=34

Information concerning practical aspects of preparing for tsunamis may be found at: http://www.fema.gov/news/newsrelease.fema?id=61616

Interviews of tsunami survivors who tell of the circumstances that led to their survival may be found at this site: http://pubs.usgs.gov/circ/c1187/

Last updated: November 10, 2014

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