It’s eight-o-clock in the evening. Halfway through one of my favorite movies “Master and Commander”, right when the naturalist/ship doctor is about to remove a bullet from his own gut no loss – after being shot by one of the master’s of arm trying to kill an albatross off the coast of Ecuador, Chad gets a page. I didn’t know that technology was possible out here or even existed anymore, but I figured it would be slightly expensive to use and therefore rather important. He left for a few minutes and returned to inform us that an earthquake had just been reported off of Queen Charlotte Island in British Columbia; a potential destructive wave generating 7.7 magnitude event triggering a tsunami warning for the Hawaiian Islands.“Oh”, we all thought, “so turn the movie off?”
“Yeah... go ahead and turn the movie off.”
The first waves were predicted to strike at 2230 hours, giving us ample time to gather treasured personal items, buckets of peanut butter and Poptarts, 24 gallons of drinking water, survival suits (aka Gumby suits), and a pillow for the long night ahead. All of this gear was hoisted onto the tallest structure on the island, the warehouse roof. Designed to withstand a tsunami, it would be our safest option for riding out any large wave that would flood the six foot high sea walls. With the natural headlamp of a nearly full moon high overhead, we watched the white breakers on the fringing outer reefs that protect Tern Island from violent northerly winter swells. The waves have been quite high over the past few days, so it would be difficult to detect a tsunami less than six feet. Which was exactly the case. 2230 hours rolled by with no visible change in the sea, no unusual currents, no inundation of the beaches or sea walls. No roaring of water, nothing but the persistent chatter of Brown Noddies arguing with their chicks, ALLLL Night. Protocol states that personal wait out the night on the roof in case any unexpected events happen.
USGS and NOAA called of the tsunami warning by 1am. I’ve read that Maui received the full brunt of the surge, a whapping 2.5 foot increase in average wave height. Luckily this turned out to be more of a drill than an actual emergency, and although from an oceanographic perspective I think it would be fascinating to witness such an awesome force of nature, let’s hope this will be our last tsunami warning of the season.