Has New York Ever Been Hit By a Tsunami?
The island of La Palma's Cumbre Vieja eruption occurred for almost three whole months in late 2021. Lava flows were said to have reached over two miles wide at some points, forcing the evacuation of over 7,000 residents. Some towns were completely destroyed during the ongoing eruption which was captured by news outlets around the world from September till December.
But you may have read something more disturbing on the internet around this time. Some had speculated that a massive eruption and subsequent landslide would have caused the formation of a "mega-tsunami" that would travel across the Atlantic Ocean from the Canary Islands all the way to the Americas. Some said that massive waves would pummel the east coast causing the deaths of tens of thousands of people. Well, that didn't happen, regardless of what your friends were sharing on social media.
Where Did This Idea of a Mega-Tsunami Come From?
The hypothesis for this nightmare scenario goes back to an academic paper in 2001, and since then a number of scientists have refuted the possibility of such a large-scale event ever happening. Some say even the biggest eruptions on La Palma would only bring waves around 3 to 7 feet to the shores of New York, and the east coast. The risks of tsunamis on this side of the Atlantic are very low.
Did it Happen? Is New York at Risk for Tsunamis?
So, has it happened before? Geologists say there is evidence that a big wave did hit the area over 2,300 years ago. Sediment, shells, and marine fossils were said to have been spread across the area that dates back to 300 BC. Scientists theorize that a wave up to 12 feet hit the area after debris was discovered deep in sediment cores on Long Island. Dr. Steven Goodbred said the size and distribution of the material discovered buried beneath the surface suggests a high-velocity wave and strong current would be needed.
Aside from the potential events, there have never been any tsunamis hitting New York in recorded history. New York's unique geography can help shield the area from most big waves. Aside from flooding and storm surges from hurricanes, we don't have too much to worry about. Even tsunamis generated by underwater earthquakes through the Mid Atlantic Ridge don't generally get too big.
There is something called meteotsnumanis though, which are not caused by seismic activity but by pressure changes and a rush of air brought on by severe weather. The coasts of Connecticut down through Delaware saw an event like this in 2018 during a severe weather outbreak.