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Pacific NW Tsunami Buoys Out Of Service

HONOLULU - One quarter (12 of 39) of U.S.-operated tsunami warning buoys in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans are out of service. That includes the two tsunami detection buoys directly off the Pacific Northwest coast. But the warning system has some redundancy built in.

Normally, there’s a tsunami detection buoy anchored more than 200 miles off the mouth of the Columbia River and another roughly that far offshore of Coos Bay, Oregon. But both buoys broke from their moorings this winter and spring, probably because of storms. The earliest they’ll be replaced is September. So does that leave us vulnerable in the meantime?

Courtesy NOAA.
Courtesy NOAA.

“The fact that those are out actually is probably not as critical to you as you think,” says Charles McCreary. He directs the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Honolulu.

“It may be more critical for example to the State of Hawaii because if you have a Cascadia event (earthquake), those would be the instruments that would be used to measure the beam of energy coming out across the Pacific,” saus McCreary.

McCreary says in the event of a local earthquake, the severe ground shaking should be your warning to move to higher ground if you’re near the water. The West Coast tsunami warning system is more useful for big waves generated by distant earthquakes. In that case, he says there are still enough operating tsunami buoys around the Pacific Rim to confirm if trouble is coming.

Meanwhile in Congress, both Republican and Democratic budget writers are blocking spending cuts proposed by the Obama Administration to the buoy maintenance program and to state and local tsunami preparedness grants.

Earlier this year, West Coast states raised alarms about the President’s proposal to reduce the budget deficit in part by trimming spending on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s tsunami programs. Local jurisdictions say they can’t pick up the slack in terms of funding tsunami hazard evaluation and preparing coastal communities.

National Data Buoy Center:

Copyright 2012 Northwest News Network

Copyright 2012 Northwest News Network

Correspondent Tom Banse is an Olympia-based reporter with more than three decades of experience covering Washington and Oregon state government, public policy, business and breaking news stories. Most of his career was spent with public radio's Northwest News Network, but now in semi-retirement his work is appearing on other outlets.