Volcanic eruption in Tonga leads to tsunami advisory in Alaska

A NOAA satellite image of an eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano, located in the South Pacific Kingdom of Tonga. According to local officials, the eruption had a radius of 260 km (161.5 miles) and sent ash, steam, and gas 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) into the air. The volcano has been erupting for more than a day but two large eruptions sent a tsunami warning throughout the Pacific Ocean.  (Photo courtesy NOAA)

tsunami advisory is in effect for much of coastal Alaska after an undersea volcano erupted near Tonga. 

An advisory means a dangerous wave is on the way according to the National Weather Service — the wave is expected to be between 1 to 3 feet. 

Dave Snider, the tsunami warning coordinator for the National Tsunami Warning Center in Palmer, said the volcano — Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai — has been erupting for at least a day. 

But early Saturday morning there was a massive eruption. 

“And then another eruption occurred, and this one seemed to be even larger and it sent a wave across the Pacific of basin-wide impact overnight,” Snider said. 

By 7 a.m. on Saturday morning, the weather service reported waves arriving in the Aleutian Chain of just over a foot in Nikolski and just under a foot in Atka and Adak. 

“We’re waking up to an expectation of the possibility of 1-2 feet of a tsunami along the Alaska shoreline,” Snider said. 

While that wave height wouldn’t necessarily send coastal Alaskans running for the hills, it’s still dangerous, especially for people who live or work on boats or low lying coastal areas. 

“So, if you’re a person in a liveaboard in Juneau or anywhere else in the Alaska coastline, you need to take this seriously. It would be a good time to get away from your boat, move to higher ground and away from the marina. Move up above that really low coastal area there,” Snider said. 

It doesn’t take much of a tsunami wave to toss a boat around. 

“We do have some minor damage, I think, reported in Hawaii. Nothing too significant coming in yet, but it did include a boat that was moved up out of the water and onto the dock,” Snider said. 

There are no immediate reports of injuries or damage on Tonga, though communications with the small island nation are cut off according to the Assoicated Press. 

Impacts from this eruption could be felt throughout Alaska and across the Pacific for several days. Snider at the tsunami warning center said people on the water should watch out for strong and unusual currents.   

“What we saw in Hawaii was impacts lasting for several hours, at least two to three hours after the initial wave continued. So we’ll be watching this throughout the morning here,” he said.

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