Lessons learned from Hawaii’s tsunami advisory

Waikiki just after a tsunami advisory was lifted at 7:25 a.m.

At 1:45 p.m. Tuesday, an 8.2-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of northern Chile.

Minutes later, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center sent out an alert, saying it was evaluating the situation. At 5:45 p.m., four hours later, it issued a tsunami advisory, which was cancelled at 7:25 a.m.

Overall, it was a seemingly calm event, but there were some lessons to be learned. Just hours after the all-clear was given, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell told KHON2 the tsunami advisory was a great drill, but it wasn’t perfect.

“You see people down, paddling out to go surfing, standing in the water, and I asked myself, what else can we do as a city and county to warn people?” Caldwell said.

Officials worked with the visitor industry to tell tourists to stay out of the water, “but not everyone is listening at the right time,” Caldwell said. “So we’re going to ask ourselves, what are we going to do to alert those people?”

Officials say the biggest wave to hit the state Wednesday morning was a two-foot wave near the Big Island. Here on Oahu, it was a one-foot wave.

“We were kind of hoping it would be a little bit bigger, a little bit stronger current, but as you can see it is pretty mellow out there, so we will see and take our chances,” said paddler Chauncey Wallwork.

By 7:30 a.m., the advisory had been lifted, so it was business as usual for swimmers and boaters. City parks also reopened, but Hanauma Bay remain closed.

At the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, officials kept a close eye on aftershocks, which can sometimes be deadlier.

“We do hourly updates,” said oceanographer Dailin Wang. “We process the aftershocks, we measure sea level, revise the forecast model.”

Wang believes the Ewa Beach facility could have improved by beefing up staff. When the tsunami hit Hawaii Wednesday morning, only two people were working at the Center at the time. Wang says he would have liked at least three on staff.

But computer scenarios and models did help the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center make predictions. Wang says they were the most accurate in recent years.

City officials say Hanauma Bay will reopen Thursday.

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