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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Wave Expert Confirms Tsunami-Watching 'Pretty Stupid' Thing to Do

Posted By on Tue, Mar 2, 2010 at 8:30 AM

You don't need a doctor to tell you that a night out on the town while suffering from the flu is a bad idea -- but it carries more weight when delivered by an M.D. Well, you don' t need a professor of oceanography specializing in waves to tell you that rushing to the beach when there's a tsunami warning is imbecilic -- but, there you go.

San Francisco State's professor Toby Garfield confirms that tsunami-watching is "pretty stupid," and worries that the one-foot swells hardly big enough to swamp a dachshund resulting from the weekend's monster quake in Chile will lull even more people into running to the beach next time around -- and possibly drowning.

"That's the nature of human beings," said Garfield with a sigh. He said he hoped wave-watchers understood that the weekend's "advisory" was " the lowest level -- as opposed to saying 'hey, look out, head for high ground' -- which they rightfully did in other areas such as Japan and Hawaii."

You -- the idiots who went out to the beach: You knew about the distinction the professor is talking about, right? Right?
Because, as Garfield has explained before, it's very possible for the term "oceanfront property" to rapidly extend up to 19th Avenue or further, depending upon the severity of the offshore disaster.

San Francisco hasn't been swamped by a tsunami in recorded memory, Garfield notes. But back in 1964, he adds, Crescent City was hit by a massive wave following an Alaska earthquake -- and 10 people drowned.

"But that was on a direct path," he says. "If you look at Chile, California is sort of shielded by the continent."

In summation, "Tsunami-watching is not smart. These things don't come ashore like a wave braking on the beach. It's like a 'tidal bore,' and it moves fast. It's like a wall of turbulent, moving water -- I don't know if you've ever seen a flash flood. So if you're sitting there gawking, you're asking for trouble."

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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