Can New Jersey get a Tsunami?

There’s more to New Jersey than being the smaller neighbor of New York. The state has its character and is one of the most densely populated in the country. Its proximity to New York also means many people want to live here. If you’re one of those, you’ll want to know, can New Jersey get a tsunami?

The chance of a tsunami in New Jersey is very low. This is due to the state’s location near the Atlantic Ocean, which has fewer conditions that can trigger a tsunami. However, the state experiences weather-induced mini-tsunamis called meteotsunami. These are rare too, and most have little impact.

Although the possibility of a tsunami is low, other disasters are more likely. They include floods, drought, storms, tornadoes, etc. Here, we discuss tsunamis and the possibility of one happening in New Jersey.

What is a Tsunami?

A tsunami is a series of waves moving together as a water body. It results from a significant displacement of a large volume of water in the ocean or lake. An event, whether natural or artificial, triggers a tsunami. Natural events are usually powerful ones, such as earthquakes, volcanoes, or any other underwater explosion that forces a displacement. It could also be meteorite impact, glacier calving, and landslides. An artificial event that could trigger a tsunami is a major detonation.

Tsunamis come in series that some call a wave train. The heights can be up to 100 meters or more depending on the event that caused it. The impact of a tsunami is usually limited to the coastal area. But its destructive powers can be much more significant, affecting the entire coastal basin. The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which affected 14 countries, had this effect.

How do Tsunamis Happen?

After any trigger event such as an earthquake produces a progressive oscillatory wave that spreads over great distances. This is similar to when a stone falls into the water and causes a ripple. Tsunamis can move at 500 miles per hour (800km) inside deep waters. The wavelengths are also wide at over 310 miles (500 km).

However, the heights of the waves could be low at about 1-2 feet, and the waves could have a rest period varying between five minutes to over an hour. These make it difficult to detect tsunamis where normal waves could bury them on high seas. Thus, a ship on the high seas only notices a small bump.

But tsunamis gain height as they get closer to land. The friction with the rising sea floor reduces wave velocity. This causes the wavelength to reduce and increases the height of the wave. By the time it reaches the coast, tsunamis can be as high as 30 meters (100 feet) in minutes. Due to the almost sudden and sometimes erratic nature of tsunamis, it’s very important to heed tsunami warnings immediately.

Tsunami Occurrences in New Jersey

Tsunamis aren’t common in New Jersey. In fact, it’s unlikely that the state has witnessed a real tsunami. What is common in the state is Meteotsunami.  Meteotsunamis are smaller and happen due to the rapid change in air pressure from offshore thunderstorms. The rarity of tsunamis in New Jersey is due to its location near the Atlantic. Unlike the Pacific, with severe tectonic plate boundaries, volcanic activity is rare in the Atlantic. There’s only one plate boundary in the middle, while the rest are far from the coast.

Meteotsunamis usually have little impacts, which is why they’re not usually noticeable unless you’re by the shore when they happen. The frequency of meteotsunamis in New Jersey is minimal. According to research, the entire US east coast gets an average of 25 Meteotsunamis annually. But only a few of these exceed 1.5 feet. So, most of them are harmless.

Only one meteotsunami exceeds 2 feet annually, enough to cause damage or destruction. On March 16, 2018, there was a 1-foot Meteotsunami in New Jersey due to the weather. A meteotsunami also hit a jetty on Barnegat Inlet in June 2013. It injured 3 people with a 6-foot wave.

A Meteotsunami is a weather-induced tsunami. It happens due to fast-moving windstorms capable of also tornadoes, powerful thunderstorms, tropical storms, and other storm fronts. Although they have been happening for ages, scientists only started paying attention to them some years ago. Between 1996 and 2017, they discovered there had been 548 meteotsunamis which is quite a huge number.

When Can a Meteotsunami Happen in New Jersey?

On the east coast, where New Jersey is, most meteotsunamis happen in summer. July is the most likely month due to the high rate of thunderstorms during this period. But there isn’t much to worry about because the chances of the tsunami reaching 2 feet are low.

However, there are rare types of tsunamis resulting from massive landslides. This happens when a large part of an island drops off onto the sea floor. It can lead to tsunamis that are over  100 meters high.

What Natural Disasters are Common in New Jersey?

The Garden state might not be at risk of a tsunami but has its fair share of natural disasters to worry about. They include:

1.  Storms

If you’re living here, expect severe storms, especially thunderstorms that come with lightning. Wind and hail are also common. March to October is the most potent storm season, as it is warm during this period. This makes it especially dangerous since most people will be outside.

2.  Hurricanes and Tropical Storms

The state experiences Nor’easters, which are like hurricanes except they’re peculiar to cold waters. It rarely gets a direct hit from hurricanes, but the remnants can be damaging too. Tropical storms are also very frequent here. Due to the state’s small size, any disaster could affect most parts.

3.  Tornadoes

New Jersey gets between 2 and 5 tornadoes on average every year. Most are weak, ranging from EF0 to EF2. On rare occasions, you’ll get an EF3 tornado. The damages due to tornadoes are minimal here, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

4.  Earthquakes

Earthquakes happen due to faults in earth plates, and New Jersey has several faults. So, several earthquakes happen here annually. But most are weak, and you might not even notice them. The strongest earthquakes in the state had a magnitude of 5.3, which is quite low.

5.  Drought

There’s also the possibility of drought and extreme heat happening here. The state has a continental and humid subtropical climate. Although the actual temperature is around 82°F to 87°F, it can feel hotter due to humidity. This results in a heatwave. Low precipitation can also cause droughts.

Other disasters here include floods, wildfires, winter storms, and landslides.

In Conclusion

Tsunamis aren’t common in New Jersey. There’s no record of actual tsunamis. What happens here are meteotsunamis, and that doesn’t happen so often. It’s important to distinguish tsunamis from other regular occurrences like tides and waves. Tide results from the gravitational pull and regular waves are due to the winds.