False-alarm tsunami alerts across the U.S. East Coast, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean prompt calls to USGS

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On February 6, USGS research geophysicist Eric Geist spoke to reporters Rachel Becker of The Verge and Grace Toohey of The Advocate about tsunami hazards on Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico shores.

They were writing articles about a tsunami alert sent that morning to cell phones across the U.S. East Coast, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean. The warning was a false alarm caused by a technical glitch, but it raised the question: what’s the likelihood of a dangerous tsunami in these regions? The Advocate article quoted Geist’s description of meteotsunamis, weather-generated tsunamis that could affect Gulf of Mexico shores. The Verge article linked to several USGS publications, including one written by Geist and others titled “Could It Happen Here?” Geist is part of a USGS team that studies tsunamis and tsunami sources.

Screenshot from a meteotsunami animation on the east coast showing wave heights in varying colors.
Screenshot from an animation of a meteotsunami caused by a fast-moving weather front on the U.S. Atlantic coast, June 13, 2013. View the animation.(Public domain.)