Did a 'meteotsunami' happen during Hurricane Irma?


Hurricane Irma left parts of Florida with a lot of damage, after carving a path up the peninsula. It also left those of us that often visit the coast with some questions.

You may recall seeing videos, where the ocean seemingly left the beaches in southwest Florida. Irma's easterly winds were strong enough to temporarily force the water outward. On first thought, it seemed like this was a meteotsunami.

According to the American Meteorological Society, a meteotsunami is "A tsunami-like wave phenomenon generated by a meteorological or atmospheric disturbance."

Local tsunami expert and geological science professor at ETSU, Chris Gregg, dives deeper by saying that this is usually "a weather system moving at the speed of a tsunami with a pressure front that can depress the sea column. When the sea column gets depressed, it can set up the geometry of a tsunami wave."

This phenomenon is getting attention, as Gregg tells us "Meteorological tsunamis, the ones identified between the 1980s and now, are probably responsible for the hospitilization and injury of more people in the US than all other earthquake-driven tsunamis" in the US.

From there, we spoke with Ed Piotrowski. He is the Chief Meteorologist at our sister station in Myrtle Beach. Ed hasn't necessarily seen a meteotsunami, that he knows of, but he has experienced the sudden fall and rise in water levels during hurricanes.

"As soon as the eye passes by the winds shift to the west. That pulls the water, showing 100s of feet of beach."

Meteotsunamis aren't new, but the exploration of them is. That's why there's some disagreement on exactly what happened during Irma.

Lastly, we wanted to know if something like this could happen in our area lakes. In the Great Lakes, they are a big problem. But Professor Gregg questions whether or not that can happen here. The one lake he did mention that might have an issue with this is Watauga Lake, due to its higher depth than other area lakes.

Currently, the National Weather Service does not have a specific warning for this phenomenon. However, they did urge Irma to get off the sudden sandier beaches during Irma.

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