Outer Banks experiences most ‘meteotsunamis’ on the East Coast

High surf, Kill Devil Hills. [Kari Pugh photo]

A new study by NOAA shows the Outer Banks is impacted by a phenomena known as meteotsunamis more than any other location on the East Coast.

While tsunamis are generated by earthquakes, meteotsunamis are caused by sudden air pressure drops, such as with fast moving severe thunderstorms, squall lines, nor’easters and tropical cyclones.

NOAA graphic

Most cause just a 1-foot water rise that’s barely noticeable. But stronger waves easily top 2 feet or more, which can have major impacts on land, and have led to human injuries.

“Several recent hazardous meteotsunamis resulted in damage and injuries along U.S. coastlines, such that National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is investigating ways to detect and forecast meteotsunamis to provide advance warning,” the report said.

NOAA data shows 548 meteotsunamis have hit the East Coast since 1996. The tide gauge at Duck Pier has recorded 130 in the last two decades, second only to the gauge at Myrtle Beach. Hatteras has the highest annual average meteotsunamis of nearly 9 every year.

The largest meteotsunamis tend to occur in places that observed frequent events, NOAA said, with Atlantic City, Cape Hatteras, Providence, Rhode Island and Port Canaveral, Florida showing the highest wave heights on average.

This study will support ongoing NOAA research to better detect and forecast meteotsunamis to warn the public in near-real time.

NOAA scientists are also helping organize the First World Conference on Meteotsunamisoffsite link taking place in May.

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