CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - You've heard of tsunamis -- those giant oceanic waves triggered primarily by earthquakes that can roll ashore, causing loss of life and disaster -- but have you heard of a meteotsunami?
Meteotsunamis are associated with fast-moving weather events, such as severe thunderstorms and squall lines, and scientists are just beginning to better understand them. They are generated when rapid changes in barometric pressure cause the displacement of a body of water. The storm generates a wave that moves towards the shore and is amplified by a shallow continental shelf and inlet, bay, or other coastal feature.
They have been observed to reach heights of six feet or more and occur in many places around the world, including the Great Lakes, Gulf of Mexico, and along the Atlantic Coast.
Additionally, they have been responsible for a number of fatalities including a large wave that hit the Chicago waterfront in 1954, sweeping people off a pier and drowning seven.
Identifying a meteotsunami is a challenge because its characteristics are almost indistinguishable from a seismic tsunami. The one thing that can help identify a meteotsunami is whether any seismic activity has been reported in the area. It can also be confused with wind-driven storm surge or a seiche.
These uncertainties make it difficult to predict a meteotsunami and warn the public of a potential event. However, NOAA scientists have identified atmospheric conditions that are likely to generate a meteotsunami and continue to work on ways to forecast them.