So, are you wondering – Can a Hurricane cause a Tsunami?
For people living in the tropics, a hurricane can be one of the most powerful and extreme weather events they will ever experience.
A common misconception is that a Hurricane-induced sea level rise is a tsunami. Though these events differ, their effects on coastal ecosystems are similar.
Although hurricanes and tsunamis share the word “storm” in their names, they are usually not related. Hurricanes cannot cause tsunamis because tsunamis are typically triggered by other natural events, such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, or landslides.
What Causes a Tsunami
Tsunamis (also called tidal waves) can reach heights of several yards above sea level, travel across the open ocean at speeds of up to 500 miles per hour, and cause damage to coastal communities.
Tsunamis are caused by earthquakes, underwater explosions or meteorite impacts, but they can also be generated by phenomena in which water is displaced from the force of winds.
Hurricanes do not create tsunamis but may contribute to a surge in water pressure when their wind speed increases in their immediate vicinity.
Nature and Types of Tsunamis
Tsunami is a Japanese word meaning “harbor wave”.
They are also known as seismic sea waves, which form from waves caused by the displacement of large volumes of water, typically in a sea or ocean.
There are two main types of Tsunami:
- Tsunamis in the open ocean and
- Tsunamis within enclosed bodies of water, such as bays or lakes.
Most ocean waves are often generated by the gravity pull of the sun or moon, tsunamis are generated by water displacement.
This displacement is caused by earthquakes, landslides, volcanic eruptions, and other disturbances below the ocean surface.
Fact: Tsunami waves have longer wavelengths, which makes them not resemble other sea waves.
Hurricanes and Storm Surges
A storm surge is an abrupt rise in the surface water level of oceans, seas, bays, and sounds caused by severe weather, such as high winds and large waves.
Storm surges are powerful enough to destroy coastal property, including homes, businesses, and life-sustaining infrastructure such as hospitals.
They occur most often during tropical cyclones (hurricanes) but also during extratropical cyclones (east coast lows) or other types of storms.
Although hurricane-related storm surges are often the most devastating, they are not the only cause.
Other destructive storm surges have happened because of tidal waves from earthquakes, nuclear explosions, and even meteors.
Why A Hurricane Can’t Cause a Tsunami
A hurricane cannot cause a tsunami because hurricanes occur over land and not over the ocean.
While a hurricane does not cause a tsunami, a tsunami can occur in the same geographical locations where hurricanes hit.
Unlike hurricanes, tsunamis occur underwater and are caused by an earthquake or landslide in the earth’s outer layers.
Undersea earthquakes, landslides, and volcanic eruptions can cause great pressure to build up.
This pressure can reach such a breaking point that it creates a tsunami, traveling across the ocean via ocean floor cavities.
Tsunami Giant Waves
During tsunami formation, the shifting of sand and rock creates waves that can be up to 100 feet tall.
Unlike hurricanes, which are created by wind above the surface and therefore cannot significantly impact waves underneath the surface, tsunamis can generate so-called rogue waves or unusually large waves.
Difference Between a Storm Surge and a Tsunami
The two types of coastal disasters—storm surges and tsunamis—form and landfall under different conditions, leading to different consequences.
Storm surges occur when hurricanes form and make landfall. They have been known to raise sea levels over a hundred feet instantly, displacing water within minutes across tens of miles.
Tsunamis happen less frequently but can be devastating as they travel inland and reach tens of feet.
They are usually the result of earthquakes or landslides in coastal areas that displace large amounts of water within minutes.
In the wake of a tsunami, most coastal areas experience deadly flooding, widespread property damage, and many other problems.
Storm surges happen frequently and primarily occur when swells and local winds penetrate inland further than normal conditions permit.
Storm surges happen worldwide, but they are a temporary increase in sea level that typically occurs as a result of a low-pressure weather system.
Note: A storm surge does not generate an actual wave but instead causes flooding that can overrun coastal barriers and flood people's properties.
Volcanic Activity in Tsunami Formation
Since tsunami formation is an earthquake at sea, they tend to form only in areas with volcanic activity regardless of their location on earth.
A typical example of where tsunamis might form is where continental tectonic plates meet or volcanic fault lines.
So if you’re wondering can a hurricane cause a tsunami, the formation process is a crucial one because storm surges (a mature form of a hurricane) generally form within the tropics.
Fact: The areas within the tropics also harbor the seasonal and ripe conditions that enable the formation of other tropical storms, such as tropical depressions and cyclones.
Tsunamis are a series of large waves typically coming between 5 and 60 minutes apart.
The flooding that occurs after storm surges and hurricanes is typically localized, but tsunamis cause more widespread destruction.
When an earthquake generates a tsunami, there is often very little warning before the wave hits the shore.
Tsunamis have been known to travel across oceans and strike with little or no warning at all.
This is especially true if there is no warning at the time of an earthquake anywhere on earth or once any kind of an earthquake occurs anywhere at any time with no warning.
The same atmospheric conditions that form waves in squall lines can also form waves in other kinds of weather systems. Hurricanes and storm surges can be forecasted many weeks in advance.
Meteorologists and climatologists have various mathematical models which analyze wind patterns that may cause hurricanes and other tropical storms.
It’s, therefore, easier to prepare for an impending hurricane and get out of harm’s way.
Fact: At least 250,000 people have been killed by tsunamis in the last 20 years.
Earthquakes and Wave Action
The effects of earthquakes that cause tsunamis are often misinterpreted.
People incorrectly believe that large earthquakes can create walls of water or huge waves that reach the coastlines.
A tsunami results when an ocean wave strikes a coastline so that the waves may exceed elevation.
For example, a large earthquake beneath the ocean or nearby can trigger a submarine landslide, generating an earthquake.
The shaking causes the seafloor to rise and fall and creates water waves that may reach the coastlines.
These tsunamis differ from other ocean waves (wind-generated waves) and meteorological waves (such as those generated by hurricanes), and they carry a lot of energy.
Note: Tsunamis do not always hit land.
If they move over an area shallower than 100 meters and they have not already significantly lost power, they will retain their strength if no land is in their path to hit land eventually, so they may continue to move out to sea.
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So, can a hurricane cause a tsunami? In a nutshell, the resounding answer is NO, and this has to do with both tsunami and hurricane formation processes.
Hurricanes are sometimes called ‘sea storms,‘ though they are large systems that generate destructive winds and torrential rain.
On the other hand, Tsunamis are generated by volcanic activity beneath the water and create large waves.
Both tsunamis and hurricanes are similar to one another because they can be very dangerous to humans if they hit a land area.
Overall, hurricanes have caused way more deaths than tsunamis in various parts of the world simply because they are much more frequent.