Search

Stay Connected

NOAA Research News

New study shows promise of forecasting meteotsunamis
Monica Allen

New study shows promise of forecasting meteotsunamis

Photographer's images aid research on rare Great Lakes wave

On the afternoon of April 13, 2018, a large wave of water surged across Lake Michigan and flooded the shores of the picturesque beach town of Ludington, Michigan, damaging homes and boat docks, and flooding intake pipes. Thanks to a local citizen’s photos and other data, NOAA scientists reconstructed the event in models and determined this was the first ever documented meteotsunami in the Great Lakes caused by an atmospheric inertia-gravity wave.

An atmospheric inertia-gravity wave is a wave of air that can run from 6 to 60 miles long that is created when a mass of stable air is displaced by an air mass with significantly different pressure. This sets in motion a wave of air with rising and falling pressure that can influence the water below, as it synchronizes with water movement on the lake’s surface like two singers harmonizing. 

"That meteotsunami was hands down off the chart awesome," said Debbie Maglothin of Ludington who took photos of the event. "The water in between the breakwaters didn't go down like the water on the outside of them, so it created waterfalls that cascaded over the breakwaters. Had this event occurred during summer it could have washed people right off the breakwaters."

Meteotsunamis generated from this type atmospheric condition are common around the globe, but in the Great Lakes, the few well documented meteotsunamis have been driven by sudden severe thunderstorms where both winds and air pressure changes have played significant roles.

High waters

High waters

The Lake Michigan meteotsunami reached high water marks and flooded beaches in Ludington, Michigan on April 13, 2018. Photo credit: Debbie Maglothin.

Combining water and weather models

While there are currently no forecast models that effectively predict meteotsunamis in the U.S., new NOAA research based on the Ludington wave demonstrates that existing NOAA numerical weather prediction models and hydrodynamic forecast models may enable scientists to predict these meteotsunami-driving atmospheric waves minutes to hours in advance. The research is published in a special edition of the journal Natural Hazards about meteotsunamis.

“The good news with this type of meteotsunami is that it is easier to predict than ones triggered by thunderstorms,” said Eric Anderson, an oceanographer at NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory and lead author of the study. “Our short-range weather models can pick up these atmospheric pressure waves, whereas predicting thunderstorms is more difficult.” 

Meteotsunamis are a lesser known category of tsunami. Unlike the more well known tsunami -- such as the catastrophic 2004 Boxing Day tsunami in Indonesia, which was caused by an earthquake on the seafloor, meteotsunamis are caused by weather, in particular some combination of changing air pressure, strong winds and thunderstorm activity.

“Because the lakes are relatively small, meteotsunamis typically need more than a jump in air pressure to drive them,” said Anderson. “That’s where the thunderstorms and wind come in to give them a push.”

Great Lakes have history of meteotsunamis

Meteotsunamis occur around the world, and are known to occur in the United States primarily on the Great Lakes and along the East and Gulf of Mexico coasts. Meteotsunami waves in the Great Lakes can be particularly insidious because they can bounce off the shoreline and come back again when the skies are clear. They are relatively rare and typically small, the largest producing three to six foot waves, which only occur about once every 10 years.

Wave floods shoreline streets

Wave floods shoreline streets

Street flooding in Ludington, Michigan during the Lake Michigan meteotsunami event on April 13, 2018. Photo credit: Debbie Maglothin.

Predicting these waves in advance would give communities potentially life-saving warnings and would allow residents and businesses to take measures to better protect property. The Ludington meteotsunami resulted in some property damage but no serious injuries. Had the meteotsunami struck in the summer when swimmers, anglers and vacationers flock to the lakeshore beaches, parks and waters, it might have been a different story, as was the case with a meteotsunami that took the lives of  seven people in Chicago in June 1954.

“It’s a gap in our forecasting,” said Anderson. “With this study and other research we are getting closer to being able to predict them in advance.”

The new research is one of three papers authored by NOAA scientists appearing in the Natural Hazards special issue. Another research paper looks at the state of meteotsunami science in the United States and what will be needed to put in place effective operational forecast models for meteotsunamis in the Great Lakes and along the East Coast. A third paper demonstrates the potential of using real-time measurements and numerical models to forecast meteotsunami impacts on coastal areas. 

For more on meteotsunamis:

New research by Eric Anderson and Greg Mann: A high‑amplitude atmospheric inertia–gravity wave‑induced meteotsunami in Lake Michigan

New research by Michael Angove and other NOAA authors: Addressing the meteotsunami risk in the United States

Short video of the Ludington, Michigan meteotsunami on April 13, 2018 taken by Ami Maglothin of Ludington

Meteotsunamis: State of the Science

What is a meteotsunami?

 Animation of Lake Michigan Meteotsunami event in April of 2018. 

Animation of meteotsunami wave versus seiche

Media contact: Margaret Lansing, NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, margaret.lansing@noaa.gov or Monica Allen, Director of Public Affairs for NOAA Research at monica.allen@noaa.gov

 

Previous Article NOAA Sea Grant facilitates external research to determine abundance of red snapper
Next Article Despite pandemic shutdowns, carbon dioxide and methane surged in 2020
Print
9687

x

Popular Research News

Despite pandemic shutdowns, carbon dioxide and methane surged in 2020

Despite pandemic shutdowns, carbon dioxide and methane surged in 2020 Read more

The global average carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere surged at the fifth-highest rate in NOAA's 63-year record during 2020. Preliminary estimates of the increase in methane levels indicate it may have been the largest annual jump on record.  

Climate-driven shifts in deep Lake Michigan water temperatures signal the loss of winter

Climate-driven shifts in deep Lake Michigan water temperatures signal the loss of winter Read more

Climate change is causing significant impacts on the Great Lakes and the surrounding region. As the largest surface freshwater system in the world, the Great Lakes have an enormous impact, seen and unseen, on the more than 34 million people who live within their collective basin. Because of their unique response to environmental conditions, Earth’s large lakes are considered by scientists as key sentinels of climate change. A long-term study published in Nature Communications today from NOAA reveals a warming trend in deepwater temperatures that foreshadows profound ecological change on the horizon. While less visible than the loss in ice cover and increasing lake surface temperatures, this latest index of climate change adds to the growing evidence of climate change impacts in the region. 

NOAA projects 30-percent maximum Great Lakes ice cover for 2021 winter

NOAA projects 30-percent maximum Great Lakes ice cover for 2021 winter Read more

NOAA scientists project the maximum Great Lakes ice cover for 2021 will be 30 percent, higher than last year’s maximum of 19.5 percent, but part of a long-term pattern of declining ice cover likely driven by climate change. 

New study shows promise of forecasting meteotsunamis

New study shows promise of forecasting meteotsunamis Read more

On the afternoon of April 13, 2018, a large wave of water surged across Lake Michigan and flooded the shores of the picturesque beach town of Ludington, Michigan, damaging homes and boat docks, and flooding intake pipes. Thanks to a local citizen’s photos and other data, NOAA scientists reconstructed the event in models and determined this was the first ever documented meteotsunami in the Great Lakes caused by an atmospheric inertia-gravity wave.

Emissions of a banned ozone-depleting gas are back on the decline

Emissions of a banned ozone-depleting gas are back on the decline Read more

New analyses of global air measurements show that five years after an unexpected spike in emissions of the banned ozone-depleting chemical chlorofluorocarbon CFC-11, they dropped sharply between 2018 and 2019. 

RSS
«April 2021»
SunMonTueWedThuFriSat
28293031123
45678910
11121314151617
18192021222324
2526272829301
2345678

OAR HEADQUARTERS

Phone: 301-713-2458
Address: 1315 East-West Highway Silver Spring, MD 20910

Stay Connected

ABOUT US

Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR) - or "NOAA Research" - provides the research foundation for understanding the complex systems that support our planet. Working in partnership with other organizational units of the NOAA, a bureau of the Department of Commerce, NOAA Research enables better forecasts, earlier warnings for natural disasters, and a greater understanding of the Earth. Our role is to provide unbiased science to better manage the environment, nationally, and globally.

CONTACT US

Can't Find What You Need?
Send Feedback
Copyright 2018 by NOAA Terms Of Use Privacy Statement
Back To Top