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Small tsunami waves hit California following Chile earthquake

Small tsunami waves and other unusual “water movements” have arrived on the coast of California following an 8.2 earthquake that struck Chile’s northern coast Tuesday.

Although officials stressed that no tsunami warning had been issued for California or the West Coast, the abnormal wave heights, tide fluctuations and current changes could surprise boaters Wednesday, they said.

The National Weather Service ended a tsunami advisory for the state of Hawaii around 7:25 a.m. But the first waves connected to the South American earthquake to strike California may have hit La Jolla hours earlier, said Bill Knight, an oceanographer with the National Tsunami Warning Center based in Alaska.

From there, officials said the waves appear to have traveled north. On its Facebook page, the National Weather Service in Oxnard said small tsunami waves arrived just before 5 a.m. in Los Angeles County and reached San Luis Obispo County about 20 minutes later.

“Wave heights have been just a few inches, the Facebook post said, “but there have been reports of noticeable currents in both the Ventura and Santa Barbara harbors this morning.” 

Kathy Hoxsie, a meteorologist with the NWS Oxnard, said “one-foot tide fluctuations” occurred in the Santa Barbara harbor as of about 7:45 a.m. Such tides were unlikely to damage boats in the harbor, she said.  

The Ventura harbor has also experienced three-to-four knot fluctuations in their currents, as well as swirling water, Hoxsie said. Those fluctuations can act like “a sudden push,” similar to a wind gust, she said.

If a boat owner is returning to a dock or harbor, such a jolt could cause damage by suddenly slamming the vessel into its dock.

Knight said one of the largest fluctuations in wave height could hit San Luis Obispo County, where waves could reach up to 20 centimeters above normal.

He said the “wave action” could continue for a full day but called the situation “pretty typical.”

“I think there’s nothing to worry about here, but we want to do our due diligence,” he said. “We haven’t seen anything yet to make us worry. And we don’t expect to.” 


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