How does tsunami form and why is it so destructive?

Tsunami’s are some of the most destructive natural disasters on the planet. They strike often without warning and with incredibly deadly force. Unlike a tornado, if you are in an area affected by the tsunami, you are likely going to die if you do not get to safety. If ever there is a watch put into place for a tsunami, or one is headed to your home, get out of there immediately. Follow the instructions given to you by local news or disaster experts and you will likely be alright. Do nothing, and the consequences will likely be dire.

What is a tsunami? Why is it so destructive? A tsunami is a giant, astronomically big wave of water that can reach heights averaging about 10 meters (30 feet) high on land. The highest tsunami ever recorded was a terrifying 1720 feet. Tsunami’s are often not noticeable on the open ocean, maybe reaching heights of about three or four feet above the ocean’s surface. But when they approach land, they grow larger and larger. They gather more momentum and water behind them, building up power. Tsunami’s rarely take the shape of a great wave. More often, they look like a literal wall of water approaching the shoreline at a very quick pace.

Tsunamis cause widespread destruction and death when they strike. They can reach up to 60 miles in width. The wavelength of tsunamis is thankfully much higher than normal waves, reaching up to about an hour in between each one. The waves easily vary in strength as well. The first wave to hit may not necessarily be the strongest or the largest wave.

Part of the reason for their absurdly high level of damage is the fact that tsunamis, on the open, deep ocean, can reach speeds of up to 500 miles per hour. They slow down some as they approach land, but even in the midst of city streets the water travels over 30 miles per hour. Imagine getting hit by a car going that fast. It might kill you, but you have a decent chance of surviving. Now multiply the weight of that car by a few million, remove the ability to breath, and add in random, possibly deadly, debris all around you. Oh, also, you have no control over where you go because the car is taking you with it. That is a tsunami. That is why it is so dangerous. 

Even when the water settles down it is still not safe. There might be more waves coming, and if you do not have access to the news or any form of communication, it is nearly impossible to gauge whether it is safe to move. Often, it is impossible to move after a tsunami due to intense flooding and widespread infrastructural damage. Another reason it might not be safe is the fact that marine life is likely present in the water. Sharks have been recorded swimming along city streets in the aftermath of a tsunami, a terrifying sight to be sure.

Now you know what a tsunami is. But why does it form? What causes these monstrosities? There are several different ways a tsunami is generated. Other natural disasters like earthquakes, landslides, volcanic eruptions, or bigger meteor strikes are the chief causes of tsunamis. An earthquake causes a tsunami because the earth quite literally moves up and down. If the earthquake happens near a big body of water, the water will move as well. The tsunami occurs because the water is trying to find a state of equilibrium once again. Gravity will force the displaced water to flatten, pulling it down to the earth’s surface once more. The water has no choice but to move to a place where it can level off – land. As the earth stabilizes, the water will gradually recede as the ocean reaches equilibrium once again.

Natural disasters are a very real part of our world. It is best to be educated on what to do in the instance of crises.