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A meteotsunami or meteorological tsunami[1] is a tsunami-like sea wave of meteorological origin. Meteotsunamis are generated when rapid changes in barometric pressure cause the displacement of a body of water. In contrast to "ordinary" impulse-type tsunami sources, a traveling atmospheric disturbance normally interacts with the ocean over a limited period of time (from several minutes to several hours).[2] Tsunamis and meteotsunamis are otherwise similar enough that it can be difficult to distinguish one from the other, as in cases where there is a tsunami wave but there are no records of an earthquake, landslide, or volcanic eruption.[2]: 1036  Meteotsunamis, rather, are triggered due to extreme weather events including severe thunderstorms, squalls and storm fronts; all of which can quickly change atmospheric pressure. Meteotsunamis typically occur when severe weather is moving at the same speed and direction of the local wave action towards the coastline. The size of the wave is enhanced by coastal features such as shallow continental shelves, bays and inlets.[3]

Only about 3% of historical tsunami events (from 2000 BC through 2014) are known to have meteorological origins, although their true prevalence may be considerably higher than this because 10% of historical tsunamis have unknown origins, tsunami events in the past are often difficult to validate, and meteotsunamis may have previously been misclassified as seiche waves.[4] Seiches are classified as a long-standing wave with longer periods and slower changes in water levels. They are also restricted to enclosed or partially enclosed basins.


Meteotsunamis are restricted to local effects because they lack the energy available to significant seismic tsunami. However, when they are amplified by resonance they can be hazardous.[2] Meteotsunami events can last anywhere from a few minutes to a couple of hours. Their size, length and period is heavily dependent on the speed and severity of the storm front. They are progressive waves which can affect enclosed basins and also large areas of coastline. These events have produced waves over six feet in height and can resemble storm surge flooding.[3]

Frequency of events[edit]

In April 2019, NOAA determined that 25 meteotsunamis, on average, impact the Eastern Seaboard of the United States every year. In the Great Lakes, even more of these events occur; on average, 126 times a year.[5] In some parts of the world, they are common enough to have local names: rissaga or rissague (Catalan), ressaca[citation needed] or resarca (Portuguese), milgħuba (Maltese), marrobbio or marrubio (Italian), Seebär (German), abiki or yota (Japanese), šćiga (Croatian).[2] Some bodies of water are more susceptible than others, including anywhere that the natural resonance frequency matches that of the waves, such as in long and narrow bays, particularly where the inlet is aligned with the oncoming wave.[4]: 4  Examples of particularly susceptible areas include Nagasaki Bay,[2]: 1038–1040 [4]: 8  the eastern Adriatic Sea,[2]: 1046 [4]: 8  and the Western Mediterranean.[2]: 1044 

Examples of known events[edit]

Area Country Wave height [m] Fatalities
Vela Luka (21 June 1978)[6][2]: 1046  Croatia 5.9 0
Nagasaki Bay (31 March 1979)[4] Japan 5 3
Pohang Harbour[citation needed] Korea 0.8
Kent and Sussex coasts (20 July 1929)[7] UK 3.5–6 2
Longkou Harbour (1 September 1980)[2]: 1044  China 3
Ciutadella Harbour (15 June 2006)[4] Spain 4
Gulf of Trieste[citation needed] Italy 1.5
West Sicily[citation needed] Italy 1.5
Malta[citation needed] Malta 1
Chicago (26 June 1954)[4] US 3 7
Daytona Beach, FL (3–4 July 1992)[4][8] US 3.5 0
Ciutadella Harbour & Alcudia[citation needed] Spain 1.8 0
Barnegat Inlet (13 June 2013)[9] US 1.8 0
Tolchester Beach (6 July 2020)[10] US

Other notable events[edit]

In 1929, a wave 6 meters in height pulled ten people from the shore, to their deaths in Grand Haven, Michigan. A three-meter wave that hit the Chicago waterfront in 1954 swept people off of piers, drowning seven.[4]: 10  A meteotsunami that struck Nagasaki Bay on 31 March 1979 achieved a maximum wave height of 5 meters; there were three fatalities.[4] In June 2013, a derecho off the New Jersey coast triggered a widespread meteotsunami event, where tide gauges along the East Coast, Puerto Rico and Bermuda reported "tsunami-like" conditions. The peak wave amplitude was 1 foot above normal sea level in Newport, RI. In New Jersey, divers were pulled over a breakwater and three people were swept off a jetty, two seriously injured, when a six-foot wave struck the Barnegat Inlet.[5][11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Tsunami Glossary 2008 Archived 16 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine, UNESCO
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Monserrat, S.; Vilibić, I.; Rabinovich, A. B. (2006). "Meteotsunamis: atmospherically induced destructive ocean waves in the tsunami frequency band" (PDF). Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences. 6 (6): 1035–1051. Bibcode:2006NHESS...6.1035M. doi:10.5194/nhess-6-1035-2006.
  3. ^ a b NOAA. "What is a Meteotsunami?". National Oceanic Service. Retrieved 19 September 2019.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Bailey, Kathleen; DiVeglio, Christopher; Welty, Ashley (November 2014). "An Examination of the June 2013 East Coast Meteotsunami Captured By NOAA Observing Systems (NOAA Technical Report NOS CO-OPS 079)" (PDF). NOAA.Gov. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
  5. ^ a b NOAA. "You might not have noticed, but about 25 meteotsunamis hit the East Coast each year". National Ocean Services. Retrieved 19 September 2019.
  6. ^ National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program. "Meteotsunami Fact Sheet". Weather.Gov. National Weather Service. Retrieved 29 April 2016.
  7. ^ "Tsunami or meteotsunami?". British Geological Survey. British Geological Survey. Retrieved 17 May 2016.
  8. ^ Becky Oskin (12 December 2012). "Freak 'Meteotsunamis' Can Strike on a Sunny Day". Huffington Post.
  9. ^ "What Caused A Tsunami To Strike New Jersey?". CBS New York. 25 June 2013. Archived from the original on 22 October 2019.
  10. ^ @NWS_MountHolly (7 July 2020). "If you happened to be near the Chesapeake Bay near Tolchester Beach yesterday you would have noticed an interesting phenomenon! We had a meteotsunami occur with the passing thunderstorms!" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  11. ^ Associated Press (25 June 2013). "Rhode Island: Tsunami May Have Hit Coast". The New York Times.

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