||SEA OF MARMORA
||GULF OF ISKENDERIN
||GULF OF PATRAS
||LAGOON OF VENICE
||GULF OF CORINTH
||SULU SEA (S CHINA)
||S CHINA SEA
B . Steve asks: Why can't we stop tsunamis from happening?
This is impossible. Tsunami, earthquakes, tornadoes, volcanic eruptions and asteroid strikes will
always happen. For the earth, these things are necessary to regulate itself, such as heat exchange and
relief of built-up pressure. The only thing available to do for preventing the loss of life in tsunami
is to know what to look for, then get out of their way.
C. Steve asks: Does the jet stream have any effect on tsunami?
In general, no. However, the location and strength of the jet stream could be an important factor
for a meteorologically induced wave event. The hurricane of 1938 can be used as an example. Upper
level steering currents forced the hurricane straight north and at an exceptionally high forward speed.
If the steering currents were more typical for the end of September, the hurricane would probably
have recurved out to sea. If the giant waves along the New Jersey shore were caused by the
hurricane, this event might not have happened with a normal September jet stream current.
D . Steve asks: Does the rotation of the earth have any effect on tsunami?
Probably not, since this is a constant force. Local forces that produce a tsunami are much more
important. It would be interesting to find out if it is easier for an ocean crossing wave to hold
together better when traveling in the direction of the earth's rotation, than one traveling the other
way. An interesting fact to consider is that a 20,000 ton ship traveling east at 20 knots along the
equator weighs 3 tons less than it would if it was traveling west! (1)
Ripley's Believe It Or Not: Sunday - 4/9/00, Sunday Comics.
E . Steve asks: Does the position of the moon have any effect on tsunami?
Sometimes the moon is closer to the earth than at other times, and exerts a greater pull. Also, a
New and Full Moon (points in the moon's orbit about the earth called syzygy) exerts a greater force
than the Quarter Moons. The New and Full Moons sometimes produce tides that are higher than at
other times of New and Full Moon. These are called Spring Tides, when ranges between high water
and low water are the greatest. During Spring Tides, coastal flooding can occur even when there is
no storm. Conversely, strong WNW winds at time of low tide can cause what is known at a Blowout
Tide. If a tsunami occurs at the time of a Spring high tide, they could be higher and go further inland.
If you are going to be hit by a tsunami, it would be better if they came in at the time of a Spring low
tide, or at least a low tide at Quarter Moons. As with all disasters, the more things come together the
wrong way, the greater the disaster.
F . Steve asks: What are some of the most famous and fatal/dangerous tsunami in history?
All tsunami are dangerous! When a warning is issued, there is really no way to know what the size
of the waves will be, so these potential waves must be considered dangerous. The most famous are
waves which had a large amount of fatalities, were exceptionally high, or caused a great amount of
damage. Here are some examples of tsunami that produced great loss of life.
||29000 houses destroyed
||Death toll not really known
||Town destroyed by earthquake and
washed away by Tsunami
||Krakatoa volcano explosion. Effects
||10617 houses destroyed
||Death toll not really known
||Death toll not really known
||Death toll not really known
Source: Tsunami Data Base
G . Steve asks: Why haven't tsunami ever hit the East Coast of the USA?
They have!! Some waves have been caused by earthquakes in other countries then crossed the
Atlantic ocean. Others have been locally generated. Still others are waiting to be found by
researchers. Here are some known or possible tsunami.
DATE / SOURCE / REMARKS
1. Nov 1, 1755/ Lisbon, Portugal/ Tsunami in Newfoundland and the Caribbean.
Computer models suggest 10' waves along the East Coast of the USA.
2. Oct 11, 1918/ Puerto Rico/ Waves recorded on Atlantic City, NJ, tidal gage.
3. Nov 18, 1929/ Grand Banks/ Tsunami in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia.
Newfoundland Waves recorded on Atlantic City, NJ / Ocean City, Maryland / and Charleston,
South Carolina tidal gages.
4. Aug 4, 1946/ Dominican Republic/ Waves recorded on Atlantic City, NJ, Daytona Beach, FL, and
Bermuda tidal gages.
5. Aug 8, 1946/ Dominican Republic / Waves recorded on Atlantic City, NJ, tidal gage.
Tsunami From Locally Generated Earthquakes
6. Nov 14, 1840/ Mid Atlantic Region / Tsunami in the Delaware River.
7. Nov 17, 1872 / Maine/ Maine
8. Jan 9, 1926/ Maine/ Maine
9. May 19, 1964/ Northeast USA/ Northeast USA
1. November 1, 1755 - Lisbon, Portugal
Philip Tocque (1878) reports that during the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, Cape Bonavista,
Newfoundland, was subject to exceptionally high seas. This event was accompanied by an unusual
phenomenon which drained the basin of Bonavista harbor. After a ten-minute period the harbor
water returned, overflowing parts of the community. The event was stated by the below reference
to become the subject of the popular Newfoundland folk song "A Great Big Sea Hove in Long
Beach." However, Mr. Alan Ruffman, Canadian tsunami expert, states this song was based on a
more recent event, perhaps as late as 1921.
Reference: Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador, Vol 1, Smallwood, J. R.
This event is very important in that it shows beyond doubt that an earthquake which occurs in the
eastern Atlantic Ocean can create a tsunami which can cross the Atlantic and move into the shores
of eastern North American. This tsunami also went through the islands in the Caribbean, with 21 foot
waves being reported. An ocean crossing wave, or wave that travels a long distance from its source,
is called a teletsunamic event. http://nisee.berkeley.edu/lisbon/
(Note: Links will be used to take readers elsewhere for more information. However, URLs are
sometimes changed, or taken off the web. If links becomes unavailable, use Search to supplement
the discussed material.)
2. October 11, 1918 - Atlantic City, New Jersey
The cause of the small tsunamis at Atlantic City, and most likely the entire shoreline of New
Jersey, was a magnitude 7.5 earthquake off the northwest coast of Puerto Rico. Quoting from
seismologists Harry Fielding Reid and Stephen Taber:
The sea waves had an unobstructed sweep across the deep waters of the North Atlantic and were
registered on the tide gage at Atlantic City, New Jersey, about 2,200 km north of the origin. The
disturbance appears to have begun at 2:00 pm, 75thmeridian or EST, with a depression (and then an
elevation) of the sea...and the oscillations of water level lasted for several hours. The amplitude of
the waves was between 3 and 6 cm, and the period between 10 and 15 minutes. The tide gage at
Atlantic City is not in an enclosed basin, but is on the open coast where no ordinary seiche set up
between the coast and the edge of the continental shelf, for the period is too short. They (the periodic
movements) are more probably auxiliary waves following a short group (of waves) started by a
sudden disturbance, but the matter is still obscure.
Source: Reid, Harry Fielding and Stephen Taber, "The Porto Rico Earthquakes of
October-November, 1918," Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America, Vol. IX, No. 4,
December 1919, pp. 94-127.
3. November 18, 1929 - Grand Banks
On this day, a 7.2 mag earthquake struck the Grand Banks, setting off a landslide in the offshore
canyons, and which sent a huge tsunami into Newfoundland. The effects of the tsunami was also felt
in Nova Scotia. The death toll estimates range between 29 and 51, depending on sources. Alan
Ruffman, eminent Halifax, Nova Scotia Historian and active tsunami hunter, is the expert on this
event. He has given much of his time lecturing on the waves to promote AWARENESS that this has
occurred, and others could in the future. This event, like so many others, had slipped from memory
for decades before Mr. Ruffman brushed the historical dusts of the wave. The following is an excerpt
from his Community Lecture Tour to Commemorate the 65th Anniversary of the 1929 Earthquake
and "Tidal Wave": Canada's Most Tragic Earthquake.
The November 18, 1929, "Grand Banks" Earthquake was a world class event. The Ms = 7.2 event
was felt from Labrador to New York City and it triggered what was recognized in 1952 as the first
documented turbidity current (underwater landslide). The underwater slump of about 200 cubic
kilometers of material moved at speeds of up to 70 km/hr; it cut 12 trans Atlantic telegraph cables
and triggered a devastating tsunami, or "tidal wave". Material in the slump moved some 1,100
kilometers and was redistributed over an area of 150,000 square kilometers on the Sohm Abyssal
Plain in the deep ocean; an area 30% greater than the Island of Newfoundland itself. The tsunami,
or "tidal wave", created moved at 400 km/hr south and east to Bermuda and Portugal, and impinged
at 140 km/hr on southern Newfoundland and Nova Scotia. It did minor damage in Bermuda and was
seen only on tide gauges down the east coast of the United States, in the Azores and in Portugal.
It was Canada's worst earthquake with very significant coastal community damage along the south
coast of the Burin peninsula, in St. Pierre et Miquelon and in Cape Breton Island; it caused months
of repair on the telegraph cables that went from North America to Europe, and 29 persons lost their
lives. (One person died in a minor tsunami on the west coast in 1946). 28 persons died in
Newfoundland, and one person drowned in Nova Scotia.
Yet the event is virtually undocumented onshore. It was only documented offshore briefly in 1930,
it appears in the literature in 1948 and in 1952, then recently work has been done by David Piper,
John Hughes Clark, Larry Mayer et al at Dalhousie University offshore on the Laurential Slope and
Rise. Despite the size of the event, it received relatively little scientific attention until recent years.
This fact stems from several reasons.
Newfoundland was not part of Canada in 1929; it was a colony of Britain, poor and relatively
undeveloped. Population was low and scattered across the island until the mid-1960's and there was
not yet a road connection from St. John's to the Burin Peninsula in 1929. Newfoundland did not yet
have a university of note; there was no industrial base and its scientific establishment was virtually
non-existent. There was no seismograph on the island; there was not even a tide gauge in 1929.
There was not a strong written tradition in 1929; the only newspapers were in St. John's and Corner
Brook. Newfoundland was virtually dependent for its scientific knowledge about itself on occasional
visits of British, American or Canadian scientists.
As a result, much that is written about the 1929 "South Coast Disaster" is myth piled upon myth
in the likes of the "Farmer's Almanac" (a 1989 article) and "The Downhomer Magazine" (a 1992
article). Until 1986 no attempt was made to gather and use local knowledge. That has in part changed
with my work and that of a geographer at Memorial University, Michael Staveley. I first visited the
Burin in 1979 and 1986, then spent some extended time in the area in 1989, and I was back in 1993
for a longer period in combination with a Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory project in
searching out onshore geological evidence of the tsunami. During the 1993 project I was successful
in finding what is the first known eastern North American onshore geological signature from a
tsunami. Prof. Martitia Tuttle, University of Maryland, is my co-investigator on this project funded
by the U. S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Martitia Tuttle and I were back on the Burin in 1994
and we have found at least three further onshore deposits from the 1929 tsunami along the south
coast of the Burin Peninsula.
Excerpted from the report of Alan Ruffman, President, Geomarine Associated Ltd, Halifax, Nova
Scotia, December 20, 1994.
4. August 4, 1946 - Atlantic City, New Jersey / Daytona Beach, Florida / Bermuda
A magnitude 8.1 earthquake off the northeast coast of the Dominican Republic caused small
tsunami at the above mentioned locations. The travel time between the quake was 4.8 hours for
Atlantic City, and 4.0 hours at Daytona Beach.
5. August 8, 1946 - Atlantic City, New Jersey / Daytona Beach, Florida / Bermuda
A magnitude 7.9 aftershock of the Dominican Republic quake caused small tsunami at the above
mentioned locations. Travel time was 4.7 hours at Atlantic City, and 4.0 hours at Daytona Beach.
6. November 14, 1840 - Delaware River
An earthquake struck the Philadelphia region Saturday night, November 14, 1840, as a
thunderstorm was occurring. This produced what is known as "The Great Swell on the Delaware
River." Philadelphia newspaper accounts have not been obtained yet, but the following is a report
from the Burlington County newspaper as received from the Philadelphia Inquirer:
Shock of an Earthquake
We were visited on Saturday night between 9 and 10 o'clock, with an extraordinary storm,
accompanied by heavy thunder and vivid lightning. Shortly after 9, the buildings in various parts of
our city, trembled and shock for several seconds, as if through the agency of an earthquake. We have
since been informed that the waters of the Delaware were agitated by a heavy and unusual swell at
the same time. - Philadelphia Inquirer.
Burlington Gazette: Friday, November 20, 1840, 2:4.
7. November 17, 1872 - Maine
Small tsunami were recorded on the tide gages at North Haven and on the Fox Islands in Penobscot
Bay, Maine. The fluctuations continued from midnight until nearly 6:00 am at somewhat irregular
intervals of about 17 minutes from crest to crest, with an average vertical range of about 23 cm. The
largest wave at 3:00 am had a height of 50.8 cm (20 inches). Corresponding earthquake phenomena
are not known, although it is possible that a shock occurred in the Atlantic Ocean.
Berninghausen, W. H., "Tsunamis and Seismic Seiches Reported from the Western North and South
Atlantic and the Coastal Waters of Northwestern Europe," Informal Report, Naval Oceanographic
Office, Washington, D.C. 20390, September 1968, 48 pp.
8. January 9, 1926 - Maine
The following are excerpts taken from the Associated Press Wire Service Bulletins on this event:
A "tidal wave" was reported at Bernard, Mt. Desert Island, Maine. Unexplained in its origin, the
phenomenon which occurred about noon caused the sudden emptying of Bass Harbor, followed a
minute later by a 10-foot rush of water, and then two smaller waves. No one was injured, but about
50 fishing boats were hurled ashore, and two men in a dory had a narrow escape from falling cakes
of ice when their craft suddenly grounded. The first sign that something was wrong was a rumbling
from the direction of the harbor. Townspeople ran to the piers to see their harbor emptied with a
rush. William Kelly, who has a fish-packing plant on the eastern shore of the harbor told what
happened next: 'It was about low tide when the first wave came," he said. 'It flowed in steadily like
the even flow of a river. Then came two lesser ones, and in less than 10 minutes the whole harbor
was filled to near high water mark. Great whirlpools were formed. Small boats were tossed about
at their moorings, and the 70-foot fishing boat Fish Hawk broke from her lines at the Underwood
Dock and crashed against the pilings. The entire harbor was a mass of foam.' The water left the
harbor so rapidly that a waterfall was created at the harbor mouth. In less than 15 minutes it was all
over.'" (AP, Jan 9, 1926, 8:45 am)
From the remote fishing village of Corea on the northeast coast of Maine comes news that at about
the same time Saturday that the phenomenon was observed at Bass Harbor, a monster wave smashed
lobster cars, tore boats adrift, and washed thousands of flounder from their winter beds in the Harbor
bottom mud. These fish were gathered up in barrels by the natives. The tidal wave came in at 11:00
am and was preceded by a rushing flood tide several hours earlier. (AP, Jan 14, 1929, 8:07 am).
9. May 19, 1964 - Northeast coast, U.S.
The following is quoted from "United States Tsunamis (Including United States Possessions)
1690-1988", Pub. 41-2, US Department of Commerce, NOAA, NESDIS, NGDC,Boulder, Colorado,
August, 1989: James F. Lander and Patricia A. Lockridge. (The information for events 2, 4, 5, 7, 8
and 9 here are also from "Landers and Lockridge").
A disturbance that probably originated near the northeastern end of Long Island was widely
recorded on tide gages in the area from Providence, Rhode Island to New Jersey. At Plum Island,
New York, the record showed an impulsive beginning with an amplitude of 0.28 m and a period of
4 minutes at 5:25 pm est. The short period waves continued over 10 cycles with decreasing
amplitude. Waves of about 0.11 m maximum amplitude began impulsively also at Montauk, Long
Island, New York and the wave activity continued for eight or more hours. Smaller amplitudes were
observed on nine other tide gage records. The source of these waves is not known, but there are no
reports of recordings from local seismic stations, and the waves do not appear to be of
meteorological origin. A submarine landslide or explosion are possible causes.
Waves Being Investigated As Possible Tsunami
When tsunami hunting, it doesn't take long going back in time, even using a source such as the
New York Times Index, for the research to becoming more challenging. In a very short period, the
word tsunami disappears. Even today, tidal wave predominates in common usage, with tsunami
predominating in the scientific community. Going further back in time, you can still check subject
matters such as tidal waves, earthquakes, volcanoes, weather, disasters, drownings, etc, in trying to
uncover those elusive waves. Continuing back, subject matters begin to disappear, and the search
becomes much more difficult. New sources do appear in this information age. The Earthquake Data
Base provides a wealth of information for research, and newspaper articles of known quakes that
have affected the northeast USA and eastern Canada can be checked for the possible mention of
unusual ocean activity accompanying the quake. As tsunami turn into tidal waves, tidal waves turn
into subjects such as "heavy tides", "the ocean acted strangely", "rogue or freak waves", or any such
terminology used to describe what you are looking for. When you find an article, then the next steps
begin, trying to determine if the waves are tsunami, or tsunamic-like, being meteorologically
induced, or just an event due to the oddities of a mysterious ocean. The following waves are being
investigated by the tsunami community:
10. Jun 9, 1913 Longport, NJ
11. Aug 6, 1923 Rockaway Park, Queens 2 Dead
Includes article on "Triplicate Waves"
12. Aug 8, 1924 Coney Island, NY
Includes article on an experience of a sailing party in 1879. (Tsunami at sea?)
13. Aug 19, 1931 Atlantic City, NJ 3 Dead
14. Sep 21, 1938 New Jersey coast Scores injured, some seriously
15. Jul 3-4, 1992 Daytona Beach, FL 75 injured
HISTORICAL TSUNAMI: Asteroid/Comet strikes
16. About 35 to 25 Million Years Ago Mouth of the Chesapeake Bay Largest impact crater in the
About 25 Million Years Ago Toms Canyon (SE of Atlantic City)
Note: If you want to see a map of New Jersey that lists the shore communities for a guide, go to
H . Steve asks: Where are there tsunami research centers?
There are probably numerous tsunami research centers, including the Alaska and Hawaii National
Weather Service Tsunami Watch and Warning Centers. Mt Holly is currently active in trying to
uncover tsunami that have occurred along the East Coast of the USA, especially in the coastal
regions of our forecast region. Some good Web Sites to visit for tsunami surfing (which should never
be done in real life!!):
Learn About Tsunamis
Tsunami Research Program
Access To The Tsunami and Earthquake Data Base
NOAA Press Release: "From Tornadoes To Tsunamis"
Check out other NWS Home Pages. From our page, find any NWS Forecast Office, and click on,
say, Eureka, CA. A good one.
10. June 9, 1913 - Longport, New Jersey
$10,000 Damage At Longport As Bank Caves In
Bay Waters, Rushing In, Wash Out 250 Feet Along Railroad Track
Damage at Longport's Thoroughfare waterfront, noontime, when a 250 foot section of the
embankment at 23rd St was carried away. The washout extended to within 15 feet of the near rail line.
The tide tore away the wharf at the Schurch chandlery store and at the same time undermined the soil
from beneath the building. After the unusually high tide, the chandlery store was standing isolated
at least 30 feet from dry land, and only upheld by the timber piling, that threatened to give way at
any moment. Other properties were damaged.
The Lavine wharf was completely torn away, and 14 feet of water was left where there had been
solid embankment further inshore, while the Henreesie house stood along on its piling but isolated
30 feet away from land. The Henreesie house was next to the chandlery store. At the following low
tide, there was 12 feet of water under both the "marooned" buildings, with 8 feet in the clear. A
special meeting was held that night on the disaster which had overtaken part of the town. Another
meeting was to be held on repair money, which had to be furnished by the property owners. The loss
to lost land and wharves, to say nothing of the inroads on the driveway, is considerable. Atlantic City
Daily Press: June 10, 1913, Front Page.
Heavy tides played havoc on the thoroughfare side of Longport, washing out large sections of the
bulkhead, undermining the houses occupied by Mr. And Mrs. Frederick Klein and Mr. and Mrs.
Henry Hennici of Philadelphia, and carried away the foundation from beneath the store owned by
William H. Church. Two women caught in the swirling tide about their homes faced the dangers
pluckily, and were still smiling when a hastily constructed gangway made it possible for them to
reach the shore. Church, who remained in his store trying to save his stock, had to be rescued in the
same manner. The tide at 24th St, where the Atlantic City and Shore Railroad tracks are close to the
water, carried away a pole, tying up the service for a time on the line to the lower end of the island
and crippling the Longport lighting service.
New York Times: Jun 10, 1913, p4.
11. Aug 6, 1923 - Rockaway Park, Queens, New York
Huge Wave Drowns Two Crippled Children Playing On Beach - Three Others Saved
A high-rolling wave swelled out of the surf and broke on the beach. It had come wholly
unexpected. No such wave preceded it, and no high wave followed it. But that one was enough to
engulf five little crippled children, patients at the Convalescent Home for Hebrew Children at the
foot of Beach 110th St, and two of them were drowned. Had their limbs been normal they would have
escaped with ease. Had their lung resistance not been that of invalids, they would have laughed at
the experience. The drowned were Pauline Higgins of Manhattan, an inmate of the school for 4
years; and, Marian Levin, an inmate for 3 years. Twenty two crippled children in all were taking their
morning "water cure." They were placed on the sands where only little rippling waves could reach
them, and shouting gleefully. It was customary for the children to leave their crutches at the home
while taking the morning surf bath.
Then came the wave, unnoticed by the three nurses, until it broke on the shore. 5 of the 22 children
were swept from their feet, with 3 grabbing a rope leading to a float. When the children were
retrieved from the water, the Higgins and Levin girls were unconscious. Crews tried artificial
respiration while physicians worked hard to revive them, but to no avail. New York Times: August
It appears that extraordinary and large wave events occur in the local area frequently enough that
the nature of these events begin to take shape in the minds of observant people. Such a person is Mr.
Robert Adger Bowen, who wrote a Letter To The Editor of the New York Times, published August
9, 1923, entitled "Triplicate Waves."
In Topics of the Times, Aug 8 issue of the NYT, there is an interesting editorial note on the
occasional exceptionally large waves, the remarks having been suggested by the recent drowning of
two children at Rockaway Beach by a wave of unexpected size.
"Your editorial note does not mention what frequently repeated experience through many years of
familiarity with surf bathing on the Rockaway beaches has led me to accept as a curious fact -
namely, the almost invariable following of an exceptionally large wave by two others in immediate
succession. So usual is this phenomenon that I have spoken of it many times to fellow-bathers in the
way of caution, it might be, or of a sure announcement. It may almost always be counted upon that
a wave of extraordinary size and force will be followed by two others, and this whether the surf is
unusually rough or not. To an exceedingly rough surf it would probably not apply. And it is notable
that these large waves generally follow a relative calm.
I have never thought to count for the seventh or thirteenth wave, my belief being that a somewhat
longer interval would generally elapse between these waves of exceptional size, whether single or
in series of three. If there is a scientific explanation, or even a common knowledge of the fact
mentioned, I am unaware of it".
Articles such as this editorial by Mr. Bower are very nice to run across. Mr. Bowen noticed a
pattern to these frequent large wave events, was constantly trying to make beach bathers aware of
this, and took the time to write the NYT Editor, thus passing down this knowledge to posterity.
Those reading this are now aware that exceptionally large wave events in the region, from whatever
cause, are frequent enough that our 1923 expert was able to assign a pattern to these events. Those
reading this will also be aware on how many pre-1923 articles on large wave events along Long
Island and New Jersey shores are mentioned here.
12. August 8, 1924 - Coney Island, New York
Wave From Calm Sea Hits Coney Bathers; Hundreds Felled, 4 Hurt; Crowd In Panic
There was wild excitement at the west end of the beach at Coney Island early in the evening, when
a wave 15 feet high and extending more than ½ mile broke on the shore with such force that
hundreds of bathers were knocked down. 4 were so badly bruised that an ambulance carrying 2
physicians from Coney Island Hospital was sent to the scene. One explanation offered of the wave
was that it was caused by the churning of the screw of a liner about a mile off shore, much closer
than the usual course of big ships. The water, witnesses said, was as calm as a mill pond when the
sudden disturbance occurred shortly after 6 o'clock.
In the backwash several children were drawn under and life guards and other strong swimmers
were kept busy rescuing them. One bather dragged 6 lads to safety after they had been swept several
feet from shore.
New York Times: August 9, 1924, Front Page.
What might a tsunami look like as it's increasing in height when moving into the Continental Shelf,
on its way to shore? Perhaps the following excerpts from an Aug 16, 1924, Letter to the Editor of
the NYT, by a Mr. Holbrook, can be used to describe this.
Excerpts from the Experiences of a Sailing Party in 1879
The party of young men who delighted in tough sailing, and as often as possible, sought the
turbulent waters where the tides meet on The Rips, off Nantucket shores. They planned to sail
through the channel between Nantucket and Tuckernuck Islands out into the broad ocean to the
south, where the bluefish were reported to be "running" plentifully. The current between these
islands were usually dangerously strong. Sailing outward, the light breeze on the glorious Saturday
afternoon gradually died down as the boat rounded into the channel and the current carried the vessel
toward the ocean in a dead calm. However, all hope of fishing vanished and a miserable, hot drift
ensued until the incoming tide would help them home at a late hour.
Suddenly, the Captain stiffened up into a whirl of action, lashed his helm for a second while he
adjusted his sail, and flying back to his post called out in stern excitement, "Hold fast", causing the
young men to jump to their feet to seek the cause of his unwonted commotion. The cause was a vast
huge wave stretching "shore to shore" approaching the vessel. This huge green wave was topped by
a white foaming crest, which curled and threw off white froth, and yet did not curl over frontward.
The wave held countless fish, both big and small, which swam with incredible speed to and fro, like
the traffic in a city avenue, glistening like silver in the sun's rays penetrating the green wall of water.
The passengers were mesmorized by the marvelously beautiful sight, until the distressed tome of the
Captain aroused them.
"Great God, if only we could get a little breeze it would carry us over before we are swamped.
Hold fast! Hold fast! It is a blind breaker!", shouted the Captain. Then no one spoke during the tense
moments, as they stared into the great green wall of water now upon them, which struck with great
force, seeming to boil and seethe around them, swaying all to and fro, confusing and blinding them
by the spray, which almost took their breath away. The boat seemed to twist and wriggle violently
under foot. It was quickly over, leaving foam-spread, swirling water with here and there a frenzied
fish leaping out of the water in search of a clear space for progress. Above and around, all nature was
glorious. The descending sun, red and gold; the green shores of the islands peaceful as always; the
young men in amazed silence, conscious of the great peril they had just passed through.
It took 3 hours and more to make harbor, drifting most of the way. The Captain's mouth remained
closed like a clam when the men said good night and spoke fervently of their appreciation in carrying
them safely through the peril.
Did this wave reach land, crashing on the shores of Nantucket and the other islands in the region?
If so, finding the newspaper articles would give a good account of an event felt from the ocean to
13. August 19, 1931 - Atlantic City, New Jersey
Backwash Of Waves Cause of Drowning
Two Others Missing as Sudden Drag of Towering Combers
Catches Hundreds Only Waist Deep
Life Guards Rescue Scores In Trouble
Impeded by Excited Crowds in Efforts to Save Bathers
Several hundred bathers were swept off their feet by the back-wash of a line a huge breakers on
the beach at South Carolina Avenue. When over, one man had been drowned and 2 bathers were
missing. The drowned man was Charles F. McKenna, 58, of Pittsburgh. The missing are John W.
Cannady, 25, of Baltimore; and Eugene Baeurle, 17, Paterson High School athlete. Many rescued
needed medical attention for shock or immersion. 4 persons brought in unconscious were revived.
Rescue work was impeded by fright which gripped all those thrown from their feet. Lifeboats going
to the aid of those being carried out were grabbed by bathers being buffeted about in shallow water
and overturned. The boats came to shore laden with persons unable to fight their way through the
water. Guards and beach surgeons, assisted by civilian swimmers, made repeated trips into the surf
with can buoys and often brought back 2 or 3 persons ashore at once.
Although the surf was rough all day, the temperature of 76 degrees attracted hundreds. The sudden
series of waves, about 10' high, rolled in shortly before noon. Traveling toward shore the waves did
little damage, but when they washed back the force of the water was irresistible and persons only
waist deep were unable to make headway and a few were carried out to the end of Steeplechase Pier.
Dr. Charles Bossert, chief of the beach patrol, declared he had never witnessed such powerful
combers in his 25 years on the beach. He ordered all bathers ashore while the waves lasted which
was only 10 minutes.
Rumor on the beach attributed the waves to an earthquake at the bottom of the sea, but
seismographs recorded nothing. Walcott L. Day, veteran head of the Atlantic City weather bureau,
attributed the disturbance to a tropical storm north of Puerto Rico. The waves arrived at high tide,
which served to intensify their force.
Atlantic City Daily Press: August 20, 1931.
The NYT also ran an article on the Atlantic City waves, and on severe weather which occurred later
in the day. The article related how the weather bureau observers were unable to account for the
disturbances along the NJ beaches. Mentioning the drowned Mr. McKenna, it also mentioned two
other drownings that day, one being John Birch, 28, a contestant in a dance marathon at Wildwood,
who lost his life while trying to save a 15-year-old boy from the surf there. This suggests the
possibility that the huge waves came into shore from Wildwood to at least Atlantic City. The best
description of the waves themselves and the nature of the wave event was given by the Pleasantville
Press and Ventnor News, a weekly newspaper, which the Atlantic County Historical Society
supplied. Following is an excerpt on the waves from the article:
Beach Disaster Big Mystery To The Scientists
Cause of Phenomenon Sought Among Forces of Nature
Quake or Storm?
Was it hurricane, earthquake, or the breaking down of the "ridge" frequented by fishermen that
caused the phenomenon at Atlantic City when one person drowned, 3 were reported missing, 4 were
seriously hurt and 70 rescued? The water swept shoreward at about 1130 am. It appeared to rise to
a height of 10-15' between the Central and Steeplechase Piers about 200' off the strand and rushed
landward with express-train speed. The first wave was followed by a half dozen others, creating the
appearance of a solid wall of water that toppled shoreward. While the waves went but a few feet past
the ordinary tide lines of the beach, the havoc was wrought when the waters receded. Some of the
bathers were hurled on the beach as the waves struck, only to be carried out to sea again by the
Hardly had the excitement died down when a similar oceanic freak occurred 2 blocks distant, at
the foot of New York Avenue, shortly after 1 pm. Cries from men and women bathers knocked down
and carried to sea in the same kind of miniature whirlpool brought squads of lifeguards, some already
fatigued, from the 3 stations along the beach. While the first series of waves were 15' or more, these
were only about half that size. The excitement from the second disturbance was hardly quieted when
cries for help were heard along another section of the beach, when a third disturbance at 3 pm carried
6 more bathers out to sea off the foot of Virginia Avenue.
Dr. James H. Kimball, of the New York Weather Bureau, said the origins of the waves was a
mystery to him, a wind of only 12 mph having been reported offshore. Of the 2 ships nearest the
resort, the Christobal, 75 miles SE, reported a 6-mile SW breeze, while the Virginia, an oil tanker
in the same region, reported a 10-mile wind.
Besides the storm and earthquake theories, another is the settling of a reef out in the ocean. An
interesting theory, which in a measure might support the sub-oceanic disturbance possibility, was
offered by fishermen, who have traveled the waters off the coast for years. They advanced the idea
that the "ridge", a sort of under-the-ocean hill near the edge of the Gulf Stream off Atlantic City, has
been breaking down all summer. This, they say, has caused the unusual deposits of marine flora and
fauna that have washed up on the coast during recent months. The disturbance, they said, might be
due to the same force which has been breaking down the "ridge", where they fish for market.
Pleasantville Press and Ventnor News: August 21, 1931
In the Asbury Park newspaper dated August 20, 1931, Mr. Day said that the disturbance must have
been to a greater or lesser extent all along the coast, although no other resort reported similar
disturbances. The drowning in Wildwood extended the possibility of the wave coming ashore from
Atlantic City to Wildwood. A small article on P2 in the Asbury Park paper stated that a bather was
injured while at a local beach in Point Pleasant Beach, when she was knocked down by a huge wave.
She fractured a bone in her right knee, was taken to the Point Pleasant Hospital, where she was
treated and released.
With this report, it appears that it is highly likely that the waves came in along the entire New
Jersey shore, if not the south shore of Long Island as well. The front page article in the Asbury Park
paper also stated that the body of Eugene Banerle was recovered in Atlantic City, while the body of
the Rev. John W. Cannady, Pastor of the Olive Presbyterian Church, Baltimore, was washed ashore
6 miles away from Atlantic City, at Kenyon Avenue, Margate City.
14. September 21, 1938 - New Jersey Coast
The Remarkable Waves Along The New Jersey Coast
in the Wake of the September 21, 1938, Hurricane,
Also known as The Long Island Express.
It is jokingly said that, "Remember, tsunami are often disguised by storm surges." An example of
this is the 1929 Grand Banks earthquake, which caused the destructive Newfoundland Tsunami. Any
evidence that the tsunami moved into New England and points southward is disguised by the
exceptionally high tides from a severe coastal storm that was raging along the northeast coast. Tides
were 18 ½ feet above the norm in Boston harbor at high tide, which occurred a few hours before the
quake hit. Other wave events that happened later in the day could have been tsunamic, but the storm
made it impossible to say for sure. This was also stated in the newspapers of the time. Because of
this concept, one would never think to review hurricanes in the search for possible tsunami, and
especially a hurricane that brought such great death, destruction and huge storm surges to Long
Island and New England. In the search for tsunami, the Monmouth County Historical Society sent
an article from the Asbury Park Press that, with further newspaper article gatherings, began to reveal
an extraordinary event along the NJ coast, an event that seems to have been amazingly forgotten with
time. Whether tsunamic or hurricane generated, it is time to brush the historical dust off this event.
The hurricane remained offshore NJ, about 100 miles from Atlantic City, and 75 miles from Sandy
Hook. A blocking North Atlantic high pressure system prevented a recurve out to sea from the
Carolinas, and the storm moved almost due north. Exceptionally strong steering winds moved the
storm at an average speed of 55 mph, but could have been traveling as fast as 78 mph off NJ. Being
on the west, or "weak" side, the Jersey shore did not experience hurricane force winds. The strongest
wind at Atlantic City was 58 mph between 205 pm and 210 pm, with the lowest pressure of 28.99
inches recorded at 210 pm. NJ was on EDT. At 330 pm, the hurricane began to move across Long
Island, and by 530 pm was in western Massachusetts. Up to this time, there had been much damage
in NJ on land. Torrential rains the previous 4 days had super-saturated the soil. The additional
hurricane rains caused massive flooding, the worse in Mt Holly up to that time, as well as mud
slides. More trees came down than would have, since their roots had no solid soil to grab. The falling
trees took out power lines and electricity, as well as crashing down on cars and houses.
Along the shore, the ocean was disturbed, and the gales did damage to some boats, but nothing the
shore people couldn't handle. Because of the forward speed of the hurricane, the storm really didn't
last that long. With the storm moving quickly northward into New England, the gales died down very
rapidly, and a few people headed to the boardwalks to see what had happened. The shore had
survived in fairly good shape up to 530 pm. And, then, it was 530 pm, and the terror began.
Looking down from the boards at the churning surf of an almost high tide, people's attention was
suddenly turned upward, and they became mesmerized and then terrorized as they looked at a wall
of water 50' high moving toward them. The wave was terraced at the front, and non-breaking. People
began to run; but, it was too late, because the wave was upon them, and they were engulfed. Others
away from the boards not seeing the wave coming in might have heard the roar as it moved inland
toward them, picking up an increasing amount of debris before it hit. This wave was so big that the
top of it was visible to an observer in Bayville, Ocean County, which is about 3 miles inland. From
the shoreline, the wave continued its westward journey, moving into coastal Monmouth County,
passing completely over the barrier islands of Ocean County to the south, and extended down into
Cape May county as well.
After the wave reached maximum runup, shore residents then had to go through its equally or even
more damaging back-wash. But, there was more to come. Altogether, there were 3 waves during this
event, none less than 30 feet high, the first being the biggest. Most of the shore damage occurred
within a 1 hour period with these 3 waves, when the hurricane was already well into Massachusetts.
Councilman George Peek of Manasquan who lived on Beachfront St, fronting on the boardwalk, said
that one wave larger than the rest did the most damage. When it hit, it lifted everything before it. "I
was out front and saw it coming," he declared. "I started for the house and it arrived at the front door
with me. When I opened the front door, I let it in with me."
Damage From The Waves
Newspaper articles have been obtained from the Asbury Park and Atlantic City newspapers. That
the waves extended down as far as Cape May County is given by the comment that the Coast Guard
was kept busy - ONSHORE - rescuing occupants of overturned bungalows along the sand dunes
from Cape May northward. Some other generalized statements on the waves are:
From Atlantic Highlands to Seaside Park, more than 30 miles, the Atlantic washed from one to
several blocks inland, heaving boardwalks, piers, bulkheads and boats.
Witnesses at several points agreed there were 3 tremendous waves "which seemed like tidal waves"
at high tide, which engulfed beachfront dwellings. Police rescued many people from their beach
bungalows at Manasquan. A 6 mile stretch of boardwalk, almost continuously through Avon,
Belmar, Spring Lake, Sea Girt, Manasquan and Point Pleasant, was either twisted or washed away.
Throughout the resort area, cottages were carried to sea, piers and floats damaged, and roads flooded
by the 30' waves.
Using the shore community guide map previously mentioned, the easiest method to describe the
damage is going from the northern-most mentioned community, and work southward.
Non-mentioned communities does not mean that nothing happened there.
Keansburg: flooded roads. (This could be from the torrential rains).
Atlantic Highlands: Considerable damage to small boats, bulkheading and docks.
Long Branch: A section of the municipal fishing pier was wrecked and the south end of the
boardwalk was carried away together with some bulkheads. Estimated damage $10,000.
Allenhurst: Cabana colony, owned by the municipality, wrecked, causing $10,000 in damage.
Asbury Park: North end of boardwalk completely destroyed, and other sections were buckled or
lifted from the supporting pilling. Parts of the boardwalk was buried in sand, and Lamps washed
away. A section of the municipal fishing pier was also wrecked. Estimated damage $50,000.
Ocean Grove: Lost ½ mile of boardwalk and 2 fishing piers. Storm damage estimate $15,000 to the
boardwalk, fishing piers and pavilions fronting the ocean.
Bradley Beach: Boardwalk badly damaged. North part washed into Fletcher Lake.
Avon: Half the boardwalk gone. The entire boardwalk has to be replaced. The towering waves
moved the bell buoy designating the entrance to Shark river from its position off Washington
Avenue, Avon, to about 150 yards offshore at the end of Brinkley Avenue, Bradley Beach. Public
damage estimated at $50,000, in addition to the private damage to many parked automobiles which
were smashed by the wind then waves and flying bits of the boardwalk.
Belmar: Half the boardwalk was removed, including parts of a new section being rebuilt under the
WPA. Estimated public damage $100,000. In the inlet 10 boats were sunk and the Coast Guard
needed to raise them. A large electric pump used to draw salt water from the ocean was tossed to the
west side of the street by the towering waves.
Spring Lake: 1/3 of boardwalk carried away. Pieces broke open the doors of two municipal
swimming pavilions, and filled the cellars with 7' of sea water.
Sea Girt: 500 feet of a private boardwalk at the Stockton Hotel was picked up and thrown through
the front of the hotel's enclosed cocktail garden. The break let in the waves and piled up sand even
in the hotel lobby. Damage estimated at $5,000.
Manasquan: "There were 3 waves, just like tidal waves," said Patrolman Job Francis. One mile of
the boardwalk went to sea. 14 blocks of the boardwalk were turned into driftwood and deposited 2
blocks inland. On the way, the debris crashed into casinos and pavilions fronting the ocean, and into
cottages on the side streets. Porches were torn away and doors and windows smashed open. The sea
left 3' of sand behind it, burying Ocean Avenue for its entire length. One man was swept inland for
a block. Another man was seriously hurt when pinned against a wall by boardwalk wreckage. House
movers were needed in putting wave-tossed bungalows back on their foundations. A doctor driving
to a call was riding north on First Avenue when the wave, carrying a large section of the boardwalk,
struck his machine and forced it into a cottage on the northwest corner of the intersection. The doctor
had to crawl from a window of the car. The water on First Avenue, which is ordinarily several
hundred yards from the water line, was 3' deep.
Note: This is probably the wave event that the older gentleman interviewed some time ago by fellow
NWS employee Bill Christ was talking about. He stated that the wave went into Manasquan for ½
mile, running up to the then Jackson House, now O' Neill's Restaurant and Guest House, on Main
Brielle: Several hundred pleasure craft, charter fishing boats and private fishing boats, normally
moored side by side in the yacht basin, were badly buffeted. A 45-footer broke away and was driven
against the Manasquan causeway.
Point Pleasant: 200 feet were swept away from the end of the new municipal fishing pier,
completed at Point Pleasant Beach last spring at a cost of $5,000. A mile of the boardwalk was
washed away, causing $50,000 in damage. Ocean Avenue covered by sand. Private damage
estimated at $200,000, due to the smashing of beach front pavilions and casinos, and to private
homes from pieces of the boardwalk hurled inland by the sea.
Point Pleasant Beach: In his book, David D. Oxenford mentions that "this violent storm sent the
boardwalk, (parts of) hotels, and plenty of water rushing down Arnold Avenue."
Bayhead: Boats were strewn along the shores of Barnegat Bay, their masts snapped off and cabins
staved in. 1½ miles of boardwalk completely destroyed. Considerable damage to many summer
Mantoloking: Ocean rolled ACROSS this peninsula town.
Chadwick: Preliminary damage set at $10,000.
Seaside area: Boats were strewn along the shores of Barnegat Bay, their masts snapped off and
cabins staved in.
Seaside Park: The ocean sprawled OVER the boro, scattering it with wood and debris. Police
estimated $45,000 in damage - $25,000 in the loss of 10 blocks of boardwalk; $10,000 in boats
swept to sea; and $10,000 in wrecked boat sheds. Two houses washed out to sea, one injured resident
rescued while clinging to his house.
Below Seaside: 2 new inlets were cut through Island Beach, known as Phipps estate.
The big news of the day for Atlantic County/City was the collapse into Absecon Inlet of a 300'
section of the Atlantic City-Brigantine bridge, nearest Atlantic City. No exact time of the event was
given. The article mentioned "last night", and that scores of cars carrying several hundred Atlantic
City workers had crossed the bridge in the 2 hours before its collapse. The bridge tenders halted
traffic when the bridge appeared to wobble. The buckling caused a short circuit which first
extinguished lights and then set the wooden bridge on fire. The wife of a bridge tender notified City
Hall, and firemen and police cars responded. When they arrived, there was no fire to put out. The
burning structure was already in the water and floating away, having collapsed with a roar. 600
people were stranded from getting to their homes.
The bridge was built in 1924 at a cost of $800,000. There were strong tides in the inlet that the
bridge was built over, as well as in another inlet about 2,000 feet away at Rum Point Island. After
the bridge had been built, The War Department eventually ordered the second inlet to be filled in.
This created a tide race in the channel under the bridge, which undermined the pilings. The
tremendous speed of the outgoing tides, at least as great, if not greater, than the speed of the Gulf
Stream, struck especially hard on the Atlantic City side, creating erosion. A runaway barge had
crashed into the bridge on the Atlantic City side a little more than a year previous. No article made
mention of any huge or tremendous waves in the region.
Only one sentence hints at the possibility when it mentions a section of the boardwalk between
Rhode Island and Vermont Avenues was near collapse, due to "the fury of the ocean." This echoes
the boardwalk wave damage further north. Perhaps the giant waves bypassed this section of the
shore, or came in at lower heights. High tide at Atlantic City was about 6 pm. If the waves came into
southern NJ around or after 6 pm, the still tremendous back-wash of the waves in conjunction with
the strong ebb currents in this channel anyway, could have been the final contributing force for the
collapse of the bridge. Since the collapse happened the day the hurricane hit, this is a very plausible
explanation. Should the waves have been responsible, you can tack on an extra $100,000 or so in
damage because of them. The remainder of the newspaper discussions were on the wind and water
damage on land from the storm.
Cause of the Waves
The probable cause was theorized by a reporter of the Asbury Park newspaper. He suggested that
the NW gales (hurricane force over the waters nearer the hurricane) were keeping the high tide from
coming in. When the wind suddenly went near calm, in came the ocean to where it had wanted to
be, taking the form of 30-50' waves. Using the USGS publication "Hurricane Floods of September
1938 (henceforth USGS), unless a second theory discussed here later proves to be the case, it appears
that the reporter, in a general sense, hit the nail on the head. USGS states that, except at 5 places, the
time which the storm wave reached its maximum height is not definitely known. "Storm wave" used
here means the storm surge associated with the hurricane; and, storm surge is the height of the water
above the reference level of Mean Lower Low Water (MLLW). Indeed, trying to compare times in
the USGS discussions, and the times mentioned in the USGS charts and tables proved difficult, until
it was realized that the discussions were using EDT, and the charts and tables were in EST. All times
mentioned here will be in EDT. The Corp of Engineers, United States Army, and the Coastal and
Geodetic Survey provided much information to the USGS report. This could be the cause of the time
The Corp estimated the surge reached the southern Long Island coast as the eye came ashore about
3 pm, along with the lowest pressure. Sandy Hook, NJ, and New York Harbor, respectively, peaked
at 11/2 and 2 hours later than on the southern Long Island coast. In contrast, normal high tides at
Sandy Hook and New York harbor occur, respectively, only about 15 and 45 minutes after Long
Island. All surges occurred on an incoming Spring Tide, but before the time of high tide. USGS
suggests the surge could have been slightly higher if it had occurred at the exact time of high tide.
The surge reached 8.2' above MLLW at 5:00 pm at Sandy Hook, and 8.7' above MLLW at the
Battery at 5:30 pm. USGS states that it is probable that the surge peak in the New York harbor region
was the effect of the hurricane winds upon the water in the open sea to the east, where the surge
reached its peak near simultaneously with the passage of the hurricane. Also, the surge in the New
York harbor region was a reflection of the wave that the storm had built on the Long Island shore.
Two other surges occurred in New York harbor on a lowering tide, one about 9 pm, and the other
about 11 pm. USGS suggests the first might have resulted from oscillations set up by the release of
the water piled up on the southern Long Island shore. The second was further complicated by the
particular configuration of the harbor, and by the inflow of water into the harbor through the draining
of excess water in Long Island Sound via the East River.
With the above USGS suggestions, it appears that the tremendous waves were hurricane-induced,
occurred on the "weak" side of the storm, and were just as large or larger as the waves riding the
much higher storm surges that moved into the coastal regions to the east of Sandy Hook. 30' waves
on the surge were reported from eastern Connecticut to Massachusetts, with a 50' wave reported in
Gloucester, Massachusetts. The NJ 50' wave seems to have washed away from memory as fast as
it receded from land. In fact, with over 1 million (1938) dollars in damage from the hurricane's
waves along the Jersey shore, two days later, NJ residents began raising funds for New England
relief! There is another theory about what could have caused the giant waves, and that is an offshore
landslide, or, slump. Since the USGS et al were searching in the dark for a theory on what caused
the waves, their conclusions should be entertained; but other plausible reasons must be looked at as
On August 23, 1938, an earthquake of intensity MM5 , centered in central NJ, struck. The previous
July 15th, an MM6 hit PA. The day before the hurricane, an MM3 hit southern CT. Could this series
of quakes have left a section of the unstable offshore canyons "teetering on the brink", with wave
action and possibly the extremely low pressure of the speeding hurricane providing the straw that
broke the camel's back? The only way to prove this would be by comparing a scan of the ocean floor
before, and then after, the hurricane passage. It might be necessary to try to do this. Otherwise, with
the first theory holding, a large hurricane racing northward off NJ and making landfall in New
England doesn't mean an "all clear" can be given to the coastal regions, just because it is now inland.
Residents would have to remain on guard for at least 2 hours afterwards, as shown by the Long
Waves do not count when it comes to the height of a storm surge. Large waves on a surge just add
to the damage. Using the Long Island Express, where does the storm surge figure fit , say, at Atlantic
City, in relation to 10/50/100/500 Year storm surge records? The top of the list is the 1944
September hurricane, the Great Atlantic Hurricane, with a reading of 9.2' above MLLW, with records
from 1911. This reading is less than the 10.1' above MLLW for a 50 Year storm. Scarily, Atlantic
City has never experience a 50/100/500 Year storm in recent history. Unfortunately, the tide gage
was inoperative during the passage of the 1938 hurricane, so a tide level was not obtained.
( Suny has an excellent discussion on the storm surge along Long Island, and other effects of the
References: Monmouth County Historical Society.
Atlantic City Evening Press: Thursday, September 22, 1938.
Ibid Friday, September 23, 1938.
Ibid Saturday, September 24, 1938
The New York Times: Friday, September 23, 1938.
Ibid Saturday, September 24, 1938.
Asbury Park Evening Press: Thursday, September 22, 1938.
Ibid Friday, September 23, 1938.
Water-Supply Paper 867 - Hurricane Floods of September, 1938: Washington, 1940.
"The People of Ocean County", David D. Oxenford: 1992.
15. July 3-4, 1992 - Daytona Beach, Florida
On this date, a wave about 10' high suddenly roared into Daytona Beach around midnight.
Numerous attempts were made to determine the cause of it. One theory was published in the Bulletin
of the American Meteorological Society, Vol. 76, No. 1, January 1995, by Churchill, Houston and
Bond. Their determination was that the wave was "a shallow-water gravity wave forced by a
propagating squall line." Other articles have been written on this large wave. This squall line
explanation is the same explanation for the previously mentioned large wave event in Chicago that
killed 4 people. It appears that coastal areas like inland lakes are vulnerable to this type of
meteorologically-induced wave. The Florida wave shows that, whatever the cause, the entire east
coast of North America can be affected by sudden and potentially deadly onslaughts of giant waves.
Did You Know???
1. In the severe street flooding in Atlantic City and vicinity during the Long Island Express, "several
drivers, police report, were so incautious as to plunge through pools at high speeds, and flooded their
2. On September 22, 1938, the day after the hurricane, the Autumnal equinox, or "equal night"
occurred at exactly noon. This was, according to the US Naval Observatory in Washington, a very
rare occurrence, for seasonal changes such as equinoxes do not generally come on an even hour, let
alone at the moment that divides the day into two equal parts.
3. A Mt Holly family had a summer home in Ortley Beach. To make a beautiful view of the ocean,
the crest of the dunes were removed, much to the dismay of the family during the 1938 tidal waves.
4. Tsunami searching can be tricky. A headline in the Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal on Fri, Jan 3,
1913, screams out "Norfolk Struck By Tidal Wave" - "Disaster is Reported in Unofficial Dispatch".
The article begins talking about a severe storm practically isolating the entire territory south of
Washington, DC, with the "hurricane" accompanied by a deluge of rain. Fake Out!
5. An earthquake on February 28, 1925, that was centered in Quebec, killed at least 7 people in
Canada, and could have been responsible for at least 3 deaths in the United States. One lady living
in South Windsor, CT, attempted to run from her house during the quake, but fell and broke a blood
vessel. She died in the Hartford Hospital on March 17th. A 2 year old girl was burnt to death by a
fire in her Franklin, NH, home, which was destroyed early March 1st. Fire officials said they believed
the fire started from wires short-circuited by the earthquake. The third person was an unidentified
woman who was toppled from the edge of the Myrtle Avenue station platform of the Broadway
elevated line in Brooklyn, NY, as the structure shook. She was thrown between the rails while the
first truck of a train passed over her. She was not expected to live.
6. If tsunami were to move into the mouth of the Delaware Bay today, "rounded the bend" and
moved into Town Bank, Cape May County, the wave would have 900' more to travel when hitting
the town than a tsunami of 200 years ago. The original Town Bank with its first cemetery is now 900'
out in the bay.
7. A dispatch from Mexico City dated January 22, 1908, stated that the Federal Meteorological
Bureau had been advised that recent subterranean disturbances off the coast of Yucatan have caused
the Islands of Obispo, Sur, and Cuyo Nuevo to disappear. They were of considerable size and were
well known to navigators. There were several guano camps upon two of them. The harbor at
Progreso has had its harbor depth greatly decreased.
8. Officials of the Empire State Building said that the 102 story structure swayed a little more than
4" at the height of the 1938 hurricane, the widest yet recorded. No one noticed the sway, which came
in a period of 7½ seconds. Engineers constructed the 1050' building to withstand a 12" sway.
9. On August 20, 1931, the existence of a deep submarine valley or gorge was discovered by the
Coast and Geodetic Survey in its recent survey of Georges Bank. Georges Bank is twice the size of
MA. Its survey was started in the Spring of 1930 and was completed with the landslide of glacial
deposited material, as a result of which the new valley was formed. The gorge created by the
landslide is 2 miles wide, 8 miles long and 1,800' deep. The glacial material which skidded from its
insecure hold on the side of the Continent now lies at the depth of 6,000', just off the edge of
10. On December 21, 1931, the Coast and Geodetic Survey announced that another large valley had
been discovered in the 100-fathom curve, in addition to two small valleys and the large "Corsair
Gorge", discovered in 1930. The newly discovered valley cuts back into the continental shelf on the
southern edge of Georges Bank from a distance of about 11 miles from the 100-fathom curve and
is about 2½ miles wide and 2,000' deep. Scientists of the C & GS suggest that all these valleys may
be gashes left by giant landslides of glacial material slipping from insecure holds on the side of the
continent and now lying at a depth of 6,000' off the edge of the bank.
11. On October 27, 1913, officials at the Naval Hydrographic Office in Washington manifested a
keen interest in the announcement that a new island has risen out of the sea off the Nova Scotian
12. On November 27, 1906, an article in the Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal received from Norfolk,
Virginia, stated that a family drowned at home by a waterspout. The waterspout, striking upon the
side of Fain Mountain, 4 miles from Murphy, North Carolina, rushed down the mountainside,
sweeping away everything in its path. The house of R. C. Cornell, at the foot of the mountain, was
carried away. Cornell's wife, 3 children and 2 girls, visitors, were drowned. It occurred at 3 am, when
all were asleep. Only Mr. Cornell escaped.
13. A cable from Mexico City to the NYT reported on May 17th, 1946, that a meteorite fell on the
ranch village of Santa Ana in the State of Nuevo Leon in northeast Mexico last Sunday (May 12th),
destroying many houses and injuring 28 persons.
National Weather Service's Tsunami Watch and Warning responsibility, currently in place in the
Pacific Ocean region and part of a Pacific-wide international cooperation, will be expanded shortly
into at least the Caribbean basin. Mexico and Central America are already sharing in this cooperation
for their Pacific coast lines, and should be a cornerstone for Caribbean cooperation. Other countries
in the Caribbean have been pleading for decades for a Tsunami Warning program for their waters.
As they have been hit by devastating tsunami in their histories, Portugal has also seen devastating
tsunami, and is currently developing a Tsunami Warning program. Parts of the Newfoundland
coastline were devastated by tsunami in 1929. Algeria suffered in 1960. All this points to the need
for an eventual Atlantic basin-wide Tsunami Warning program, and hints that international
cooperation for Atlantic basin countries should be easily and quickly attainable. The Atlantic basin
shares the same problems as exists in the Pacific basin and all the other waters of the world.
When tsunami is generate by a local event, there is often no time for any Watch or Warning.
Awareness education is essential. Mentioning a few points here could be useful. If you are in a
coastal region and experience a large and/or lengthy earthquake, immediately head for higher ground.
This IS your Warning!! If you are in a coastal region, and the water suddenly recedes from the shore
or empties from the bay, do not consider this as an opportunity to gather the flopping fish for the
evening supper. Immediately head for higher ground. This IS your Warning!! If you are a Life Guard
and see this happening, with no tsunami awareness training, you might sit in your high chair
wondering what is happening. With awareness training, Life Guards can scream for the bathers to
immediately head for higher ground. There isn't much time to do so! Watches and Warnings can be
successful for ocean-crossing waves. However, education is still needed here as well.
Should a Warning be issued, emphasis must be made that coastal residents should not consider this
to be an opportunity to pack their picnic baskets and go to the beach to watch the waves come in.
Wouldn't want to miss this!! Hey, Surfer Dudes! Big waves coming in! Let's ride those Big Ones!
Don't even think of it. If a 5-incher comes in, you will be greatly disappointed. If a 50-footer comes
in, you might be dead. It's near impossible to forecast the actual heights of waves warned for. Think
Big and hope for small. You might not think that any of this applies to you, but we live in a mobile
society. Those currently residing in a mountainous area might find themselves eventually living
along a coast. Awareness can be a life saver.
Awareness is the cornerstone for this tsunami section of the NWS Mt Holly homepage. Should
some of the mentioned events turn out to be non-tsunami, they shall remain in place to remind the
readers of what has happened along the shore in the past. Should some turn out to be tsunami, they
will be added to the Tsunami Data Base. The 1938 Long Island Express Hurricane's remarkable
tremendous wave event along the NJ coast had been hiding for too long, now known using easily
accessible sources; an event that what most people would call a Classic Tidal Wave in every sense
of the word. Now it is known that 3 waves moved in, the largest estimated at 50'! The first and
biggest moved inland for ½ mile in Monmouth County, and passed over the barrier islands of Ocean
County, on its way across Barnegat Bay. The series of waves might have been the catalyst for the
collapse of the Atlantic City-Brigantine bridge, and people had to be rescued on shore in Cape May
County. Articles from county newspapers not yet checked might reveal even more. Did the waves
reach the Ocean County mainland on the west side of Barnegat Bay? Did they reach the Delaware
beaches? Did they affect the coastal communities in the Delaware Bay? The preliminary damage
given was over 1 million (1938) dollars.
This was to municipal property only. The total damage when private property is considered would
more than likely be double or triple this figure. What would the equivalent value be today?
Conversion can be made, but that would miss the point. The point is, what damage would occur
today in the now developed shore communities? There was no loss of life from the 1938 waves.
Today, should a Hurricane Watch for the shore be issued by the Tropical Prediction Center, then
followed by a Warning, organizations responsible for the safety of the shore residents gear up, with
the option of calling for evacuations. Would this decision be made, with a rapidly northward moving
large hurricane, forecast to remain well offshore? Knowledge of the 1938 event, occurring 2 hours
after the hurricane had already moved into New England, might prove useful in any evacuation
debate, especially for a pre-Labor Day storm.
The search for tsunami will continue by the NWS at Mt Holly, as searching is being continued by
many others. Sharing discovered events along the coasts of North America will increase awareness
that events do indeed happen along these shores and allow research to be conducted to determine
which ones are tsunami. Enough has been discovered, with hints that many more event have indeed
occurred, to dispel the myth that "nothing ever happens here." Maybe the next 1938-type Big Ones
will be discovered by Steve Horvath!
Back to top
Some Experiences With The 1938 Hurricane
The following section relays some of the experiences that residents have given with the 1938
hurricane. These experiences are invaluable in helping to understand the nature of the storm, and to
prove or disprove some of the theories as to what actually did happen.
1938 Hurricane Experiences, as relayed by Mr. Marshall Sewell, of Whiting, NJ
Mr. Sewell was working for the former Lakewood Daily Times in 1938. The hurricane was his first
major news story. He and his boss, Mr. Harold "Chick" Ober, were looking out the Times window,
when the only large tree on the property fell directly between their two cars, missing them by inches.
Suspecting now that a big storm was underway, Mr. Sewell called the Manasquan Inlet Coast Guard
Station. The obviously upset crewman who answered the phone practically shouted at Mr. Sewell,
"You won't believe this! I just saw a big piece of the boardwalk across the inlet swept inland by a
huge wave, and a guy was standing on it!" Mr. Sewell, accompanied by his mother, an inveterate
storm chaser, took off to Point Pleasant Beach for the Big Story. It took them almost an hour to drive
the 9 miles, dodging tree limbs and downed wires all the way. Entering downtown, they saw huge
sections of the boardwalk, railings still attached, that had been swept 1/2 mile down Arnold Avenue
and were blocking the railroad tracks near the station. Along the beach, unprotected by dunes at that
time, many of the bungalows between Arnold Ave. and the inlet had been damaged or had toppled
off their pilings into the ocean, which was still turbulent.
Further south at Risden's Pavilion, large picture windows facing the ocean had been smashed by
the wave, or waves. The bartender told Mr. Sewell that he and a patron had been looking at the surf
when suddenly "out of nowhere", this huge wave higher than he had ever seen rose out of the sea and
came right in the pavilion. It carried the patron out the back door, still clinging to his barstool, "all
the way downtown." When he hit dry land, he was heard to say, "That drink sure had a kick",
although Mr. Sewell suggests this is probably what everyone had expected him to say. After a ride
like that, the patron was probably too terrified to say much of anything!
Mr. Sewell and his boss were also correspondents ("stringers") for several other papers and news
services, and called as many news outlets as they could about the hurricane's effects on Ocean
County. The New York Times editor took the information, but only printed some of it, since the
unbelievable major disaster reports from Long Island and New England became predominant. Mr.
Aber decided that the public should be better educated concerning hurricanes. He sent Mr. Sewell
to Lakehurst Naval Air Station and interviewed a meteorologist, one of the few forecasters who
followed the hurricane from its earliest stages. Out of this interview came a local news story that was
picked up by the Associated Press and reprinted as a feature article in other papers. Interestingly,
Annaliese Heinen, a daughter of an airship officer at Lakehurst, was trapped on a stalled train along
the CT shoreline between Stonington, CT, and Westerly, RI, for hours during the storm. Suddenly,
a huge wave knocked the cars off the tracks. Many drowned, but she survived.
Mr. Sewell was a fellow editor with Mr. Everett S. Allen on the Middlebury College student
newspaper in the 1930s. After graduation, Mr. Allen joined the New Bedford Standard Times in his
home town. His first major news story was also the 1938 hurricane. He eventually progressed to
editor of the paper. In 1976, he published the book, "A Wind to Shake the World", on the now
infamous 1938 hurricane. The book focused on the human stories of primarily Long Island and New
Thank you very much, Mr. Sewell, for sharing your experiences with us!
1938 Hurricane Experiences, as relayed by Mr. Joseph H. Penrose, of Port Monmouth, NJ
Mr. Penrose grew up in Seaside Park in the 1920s and 1930s, living on 9th Avenue, in a house
which sat on the back of the lot. There was not one structure between his house, Barnegat Bay, nor
the ocean, but for one house on the ocean front. The bay and some of the ocean was visible from his
house. All the other houses on the street sat near the front of their lots. On the morning of the
hurricane, it was raining so hard that the schools were closed. They were probably also closed
because Barnegat Bay had risen and was covering the roads. The wind was from the west, and
blowing so hard that, not only was the bay water being pushed into the streets, most of the boats in
the bay had dragged their moorings and were blown up onto the shore, or onto Bay Avenue. By noon
time, the bay was all the way up to the railroad tracks, which went down the middle of the peninsula
from Seaside to Point Pleasant.
During the afternoon, Mr. Penrose and his brother Jim noticed that spray from the ocean waves
were visible over the 3 story house that partially blocked their view of the ocean. Amazed at this
sight, they asked their mother if they could go to the ocean and watch the waves. She wasn't thrilled
about this, since the ongoing storm had knocked out the electricity during the morning. That meant
no radio, and no way to listen to the Philadelphia stations, the only ones available at that time, for
information about the ongoing storm. Since the bay waters seemed to be where the trouble was
concentrated, their mother let them go to the ocean, only if they wore their hip boots, slickers and
sou'westers, which all Seaside boys after the 5th grade had. Off they went, walking only on the
sidewalk per mother's orders, "walking" in a sense, since they had to lean backwards in the strong
wind to keep from being blown into a run. Finally reaching the boardwalk, the brothers saw a sight
never seen before.
The west wind was blowing so strongly that it actually blew the ocean out to the first fish pound
pole. At this time, fishermen jetted long-piling into the ocean bed perpendicular to the beach and
strung nets on them to catch the fish. The first fish pound pole was about 1/8 of a mile out. The
ocean was backed up 1/8 of a mile! The waves were the largest they ever saw, and the wind was
indeed blowing the spray off the crests at least as high as a 3-story building. They were tempted to
walk out to the first fish pound pole, but stayed on the boardwalk per mother's orders. They walked
the boards to 4th Avenue, then sat on a bench to catch their breath. Sitting on the bench only a few
minutes, the wind shifted from the west to the east, and then what a sight they saw! It was a wave
so large that it scared them, as it was coming straight for the bench where they were sitting. All the
water that had been pushed out to sea by the west wind now came roaring in toward the brothers.
The wave hit the boardwalk, breaking off the section where they were standing off its pilings, and
turning it into a raft. Off they went on the raft, down 4th Avenue toward the bay, until the wave
reached maximum run-up. As the wave began to recede toward the ocean, the raft with the 2 brothers
on it was now heading for the ocean! Luckily, the shattered boardwalk section caught on the pilings
from which they were recently bolted. A nearby sand dune was higher than where they currently
were, so off they scrambled to the safety at the top of the dune, or so they thought. Looking east, they
saw a second and even larger wave coming toward them. Somehow, they managed to hold on as this
giant wave passed completely over the dune. When this wave receded back into the ocean, they
headed to the ocean front house just west of the dune.
Steps led to a front porch with a good view of the entire ocean. Taking these steps 2 or 3 at a time,
they reached the safety of the porch, or so they thought. With this good view of the ocean, the
brothers now saw the biggest wave of the 3 coming at them! It rolled over the dune and smashed into
their safe porch, taking the steps with it. When this wave receded into the ocean, as quickly as it
started, it was all over. The waves in the ocean were still as big as the waves were when the brothers
first arrived at the ocean, but none washed over the destroyed boardwalk line. The wind was still
from the east, but it didn't blow them away, as the west wind had tried. In almost the flash of an eye,
those 3 waves washed out 2 miles of boardwalk in Seaside Park, and about a mile in Seaside
Heights. It almost took the Penrose brothers to a watery grave.
Note: These experiences appeared in a November 9, 1999, "Remember When" article published in
the Asbury Park Press.
Thank you very much, Mr. Penrose, for sharing your experiences with us!
Many readers interested in tsunami are also interested in other natural disasters such as hurricanes,
tornadoes, floods and earthquakes, and what steps can be taken to lessen the effects of such events.
Natural Hazards Observer is a very informative bimonthly publication of The Natural Hazards
Research And Applications Information Center in Boulder, CO. This organization was founded to
strengthen communications among researchers and the individuals and organizations concerned with
natural disaster mitigation. The center is funded by the National Science Foundation, Federal
Emergency Management Agency, National Weather Service, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Army
Corps of Engineers, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Transportation,
National Aeronautics and Space Administration, The Institute for Business and Home Safety, and
the Public Entity Risk Institute. The Observer is free to subscribers within the USA. Copies are also
available on the Web. The publication is loaded with useful links to other Web sites. In the July,
2000, edition, a link is given to The Tsunami Risks Project, based in the United Kingdom. From the
The Tsunami Risks Project, based in the U.K., was launched to introduce the British insurance
industry to tsunami and the risks they pose and to quantify tsunami hazards by developing
frequency-magnitude distributions and evaluations of direct and indirect insurance risks. The project
is examining subjects ranging from how tsunamis are generated and how they propagate across the
oceans; to the mechanisms by which they cause damage when they make landfall; to the means by
which disaster planning can reduce the economic losses that result; and to the sources of post disaster
information and mapping that can be consulted to validate tsunami-related insurance claims. The
project's web site provides details about this initiative, as well as an interactive map with
accompanying articles about historic tsunami disasters of the world; a "Risk Atlas" - another
interactive map showing tsunami risks around the world; a case study of the 1964 Alaska earthquake
and tsunami; an extensive report by A. G. Dawson entitled, "Tsunami Risk in the North Atlantic
Region"; a bibliography; and an index or related web sites.
There have been many television programs recently on tsunami, tsunami chasers, hurricanes,
tornadoes, and various weather phenomena. Most have been on The Learning Channel, and The
Discovery Channel. One program that might be overlooked was on Discovery on August 28, 2000.
The title (Planet Of Oceans: Unseen Forces - Nature) is deceptive when compared with the contents.
A large segment consists of an excellent explanation of methane hydrates, and the threat they present
to coastal regions for tsunami. This threat is discussed in the next section.
Recently Released Studies On Mid-Atlantic Tsunami Potential
On April 28, 2000, the first installment of Tsunami Information went on the web site of the Mt
Holly NWS Forecast Office. One of the topics discussed was the possibility of a tsunami along the
east coast of the U.S. caused by a landslide occurring on the unstable Continental Shelf and offshore
canyons. Four days later, the first of many similar studies hit the press, making the evening national
news programs, as well as the local news stations. The different authors discussed a variety of causes
which could send land offshore tumbling down to the deep abyss, and pushing those waves ashore.
It would be remiss not to briefly discuss the subject matter of these various researchers. They will
be discussed in order of publication, to show the public evolution of the east coast tsunami threat
The original May 2nd article appeared in USA Today, Tim Friend, reporter, entitled, "Cracks on
ocean floor could spawn tidal waves". Neil Driscoll of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution,
Jeffrey Weissel of Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, and John Goff of the
University of Texas at Austin, reported the discovery in the May issue of "Geology". The article
stated that a group of scientists were to leave shortly to try to determine the age of the cracks. Should
the cracks be capable of initiating any landslides, the resultant waves could range anywhere from 2'
to over 20' high. This article discusses in general the problems that were pointed out in the initial
installment on the Mt Holly web site. Any tsunami generated in conjunction with the ocean cracks
would be a local tsunami, which gives little, if any, time to prepare for it. Should there be some time
to prepare, there is still no way of knowing the height of the waves to come.
This initial USA Today article eventually made it to other newspapers, nation-wide, such as the St
Paul/Minneapolis Pioneer Planet, and the Cecil (MD) Whig. A cartoon by Brooking, of the
Richmond Times-Dispatch, was published in the Pocono (PA) Record. The cartoon showed a
bartender and his customer watching TV wide-eyed, as a bulletin was being announced. The TV
reporter is screaming, "A Giant 100' Tsunami Is Heading Toward The Mid-Atlantic Coastline!
Complete Coverage Following 'Who Wants To Be A Millionaire' ". Should these two cartoon
gentlemen happened to have been in a tavern on the Point Pleasant Beach, NJ, boardwalk on
September 21, 1938, with a large picture window in back of them, giving a great view of the ocean,
as in the cartoon, readers have already read what could have happened to them in one of the sections
on the 1938 "Hurricane Experiences". The next media coverage was brought to Mt Holly's attention
by Walt Drag, a lead forecaster at the Forecast Office in Taunton, MA.
The article appeared in the June 6, 2000, edition of the Boston Globe, Science Section, David L.
Chandler, Globe Staff, and entitled, "East Coast tsunami watch is premature". The article discusses
the results of the research cruise taken to investigate the newly discovered ocean floor cracks. The
researchers discovered "sea-floor formations that appear to have been formed by blowouts of
surprisingly large quantities of natural gas trapped in the sediments off the VA coast." Jeffrey
Weissel remarked that some craters formed by the explosive release of the gas could contain
Manhattan's Central Park easily. NJ coastal residents are well aware of the effects of the occasional
releases of this gas called hydrates. Some of the releases produce loud, explosive, booming noises,
occasionally accompanied by localized small earthquakes. The name for this phenomena is
"Mistpouffers". Mistpouffers are also relatively common in the North Sea region. Scientists believe
a series of large releases was responsible for a huge Mid Atlantic offshore landslide, called the
Albemarle-Currituck Slide, about 16-18,000 years ago. In this slide, about 33 cubic miles of
sediments moved down the slope, creating an east coast tsunami anywhere from 6' to 36' high.
Another slide, possibly caused by a large hydrate release, is called the Baltimore-Accomac Slide. A
future Update will contain a more detailed examination of these and other offshore landslides. There
is one more cause being postulated for a possible future tsunami event along the Mid Atlantic coast.
In a paper published in the July 14, 2000, journal "Science", geologist Peter Flemings of
Pennsylvania State University, University Park, and graduate student Brandon Dugan, announced
the discovery of a layer of highly pressurized water under the land offshore NJ. The principle of a
sudden expulsion of water creating a landslide/tsunami is similar to the previous discussion on
hydrates. This just adds one more player to the game!
The various researchers and other scientists interviewed in the preceding articles mentioned that
shore residents probably should be more concerned in the near future about waves associated with
hurricanes and nor'easters. Indeed, the tremendous wave assault on the NJ coast associated with the
1938 hurricane, shows this concern to be real. What makes this concern even greater is the fact that
the offshore passage of the 1944 Great Atlantic Hurricane produced an identical series of monstrous,
tsunami-like waves, as occurred in the 1938 storm! Additionally, the September 3, 1821, hurricane
brings in another tsunami associated occurrence, usually never considered as part of an advancing
The September 14, 1944, Great Atlantic Hurricane
"We saw the wave come over the island and go across to the mainland. It took what it took. A
single wave. Just one big wave. I think as the crest of the wave passed by our house, it was probably
eight or nine feet high. You could see it coming from way out, and it came at one shot. The beach
at that time was relatively steep and wide, and to come across the beach and pass by our house at
eight or nine feet - that was a hell of a wave. When that wave got to the mainland, it turned around
and came back. I think people at that time said that the return of the wave did more damage. It just
sucked everything out. The boats from the bay were now on the beach."
Is this quotation from an eyewitness to a tsunami impacting Hawaii or Japan? Could this witness
be describing the 1929 Newfoundland tsunami? Perhaps this is an additional observation from the
Jersey shore during the 1938 hurricane? This is indeed an observation from the Jersey shore, but an
observation from the 1944 hurricane. This event was witnessed by a Mr. Ellwood Barrett, his
mother, aunt and 10 year old sister, from a 2nd story apartment near the ocean on Seventh Street in
Beach Haven. This quote was taken from "Great Storms of the Jersey Shore", by Larry Savadore and
Margaret Thomas Buchholz. (Hereafter, STORMS).
Megan Sprignate of the Monmouth County Historical Association mailed the initial article from
the Asbury Park Evening Press on the giant wave event that occurred during the 1938 hurricane. She
then sent an article on the 1944 hurricane, mentioning that the description of the wave event that
accompanied this hurricane sounded remarkably similar to the 1938 storm. Upon further research,
indeed, a series of monstrous waves accompanied this hurricane as with the 1938 hurricane! This
hurricane passed offshore a little closer than 1938, moving at an accelerating forward speed along
a path from the NC Outer banks to eastern Long Island. Estimated wave crest heights were given by
witnesses along the entire NJ shore. Since the estimates of the crest heights are remarkable, as in
1938, observations showing that the estimates are not far fetched will be highlighted here. The
sources used are the New York Times, the Asbury Park Evening Press, and STORMS.
North Jersey resorts declared this storm as its "worst storm in history" for 25 miles, from Deal to
Bay Head. A series of 3 tidal waves near 50' high swept over the beachfront, carrying everything in
front of them. At Harvey Cedars on Long Beach Island, Reynolds Thomas, a borough commissioner,
watched the first wave strike. "It lifted itself 25' above the dunes and advanced toward the boulevard
in a solid wall of water, no foam". On the southern end of LBI, the wave height was estimated at 30'.
Cape May witnesses estimated the height at 40'. The time of occurrence varied, with the waves
striking around 5 pm in the extreme south, to a time given as between 9 and 10 pm in the north.
From north to south along the shore, the boardwalks were taken away for a ride as in 1938. In Beach
Haven, the wave hit the Spray Beach Hotel, which was near the beach. An enormous flow of water
and sand entered the hotel, even through the 3rd floor windows. In Asbury Park, the boardwalk was
destroyed, buildings on the ocean side flattened, and fishing piers swept away, within seconds. A car
driven by Frank H. Rowland, Civil Defense Coordinator, was caught in the backwash of the biggest
wave on Fifth Avenue and carried 75'. In Stone Harbor, Mayor John Biggs watched part of the
boardwalk ride the crest of the wave over the top of a house, then crash onto First Avenue. In Cape
May, the entire 2 mile long boardwalk was destroyed in a matter of minutes. Unlike 1938, these
waves caused fatalities.
On LBI, the bodies of 2 women were recovered from the surf, and 3 island residents reported
missing were never recovered. In Sea Isle City, a nurse running for aid was washed away. She was
found buried beneath more than a foot of sand and debris. In 1938, it is a wonder that people were
not killed by the huge waves. In 1944, it is a wonder that more people were not killed. To illustrate
this, as well as the power of these tsunami-like waves, the examples-by-county damage format, as
used with 1938, will again be used, especially since in-print coverage of this "recent" storm was
more complete. The damage will be mentioned only if it can be attributed to the tsunami-like waves,
with any damage possibly attributed to the wind or any storm surge not mentioned. Damage on land
was similar to 1938, with the land being saturated by periods of heavy rain in the days previous to
the passage of the hurricane, with inches of additional rain accompanying the storm . The wind was
stronger on land with this storm, being sustained at hurricane force for a brief period of time at the
closest passage of the hurricane. For more detailed information, with excellent damage pictures,
STORMS should be consulted, a book shore dwellers are probably well familiar with. Except for
details, the pictures very well illustrate the almost identical damage that occurred with the
tsunami-like waves that accompanied the 1938 hurricane.
Asbury Park: Parts of the Casino were torn from the steel and concrete foundations and the sub
floor developed a giant crack. The wooden floor of the roller skating rink buckled and rose 3'.
Because of the damage, the Casino was closed for nearly 10 years. The municipal fishing pier,
extending out hundreds of feet on 24" - thick pilings, was swept away, including a restaurant,
shooting gallery and gift shop. Parts of the floor of Convention Hall buckled. The Hall and the
Paramont Theater were swamped by water. The waves swept into the sewage treatment plant,
knocking it out of service for more than 2 weeks. Logs and wreckage were all over Ocean Avenue,
and toilets, stoves and other fixtures that had washed out of boardwalk shops covered Kingsley
Ocean Grove: The boardwalk was reduced to rubble, with benches and boardwalk carried a block
inland, some a block beyond Ocean Avenue. The South End Pavilion was uprooted and destroyed.
The boardwalk Homestead Restaurant at the North End Pavilion was torn off its pilings and thrown
against the front of the North End Hotel. The Barnegat Bay Seafood Restaurant opposite the hotel
Long Branch: The boardwalk was smashed to kindling. Ocean Avenue was undermined in many
places, with the pavement and sidewalks disappearing. Chelsea Baths on Ocean Avenue was
Deal: 200' of a pier at the foot of Phillips Avenue were carried away. Much sand from the beach was
washed onto Ocean Avenue.
Avon: Large sections of the boardwalk were destroyed. Water rushing across Ocean Avenue entered
the Avon Inn. The west wall of the Norwood Avenue Pavilion was knocked into Ocean Avenue by
the rushing waters.
Belmar: The then-new 10th Avenue Pavilion and a mile of boardwalk were torn apart and carried
westward to settle on lawns along Ocean Avenue. The ocean went as far west as A Street in spots.
Piers at 8th and 16th Streets were heavily damaged. The fishing pier lost 350' of its 850' long span.
Spring Lake: The boardwalk was swept across Ocean Avenue onto residents' lawns.
Manasquan: The boardwalk was ripped from end to end.
Brielle: Sections of the boardwalk were found floating in Wreck Pond.
Sea Girt: Heavy timbers being used in jetty construction at the north end broke loose, pounding
against several houses. The boardwalk was severely damaged, with bath houses totally wrecked.
Tons of sand scoured out around the Stockton Hotel.
Point Pleasant Beach: The boardwalk between Jenkin's Pavilion and Manasquan Inlet was ripped
to pieces, as was the PP Fishing Club's pier at the foot of Central Avenue.
Mantoloking: Waves to the Bay. Garages smashed, with furniture stored for the winter floating
everywhere. A small house at the foot of Dower Avenue was deposited on Rt 37. Ocean front homes
Bay Head: 11/2 miles of the boardwalk wrecked, with some pieces found 2 blocks back from the
ocean. Many homes directly on the oceanfront were damaged, and porches and bulkheads washed
Long Beach Island: Hundreds of cottages and automobiles were swept away, with many others
damaged. Throughout the area, many intact pleasure boats were found miles away from their
anchorages, often high and dry some distance from the water.
Southern end of LBI: The monstrous waves washed across, popping off roofs of houses, with some
houses collapsing. Some houses floated whole, hitting other buildings and jamming up, forming
islands of debris.
Harvey Cedars: The monstrous wave "25' above the dunes" broke a huge, oceanfront home in two.
Holgate: Shows a combination of events. The wind lifted a house off its foundation, but it sank back
down. Then, the gigantic wave took the house into the Bay. The house broke up when it was washed
Atlantic City: 8 teenage boys rode a 40' section of the destroyed boardwalk down Madison Avenue,
ending up against the front of a barber shop. The Heinz Pier was split in two. The Atlantic City to
Brigantine bridge, damaged in the 1938 hurricane, then rebuilt, was destroyed.
CAPE MAY COUNTY
Sea Isle City: 25 houses were washed from their foundations. Between Sea Isle City and Strathmere,
more than 100 bungalows vanished into the channel, as the wave passed over the land on its way to
Cape May: Beach drive washed out and buried to a depth of at least 4' with sand and debris.
Hurricane Wave or Tsunami???
The shoreline of NJ has had at least 2 bouts with monstrous waves, causing considerable and
nearly instantaneous damage. These were the hurricanes of September 1938 and 1944. Both
hurricanes passed offshore, with the NJ waters being on what mariners call the "navigable", or, safe
side. The wind is weaker, and the storm surge lower, on the left side than around the center and to
the right of the storm. Both storms had been much stronger in their life times, but were only a CAT
1 at the most when passing offshore. A "standard" CAT 1 storm surge is estimated to be 4-5'. If the
tide caused by the hurricane was 3-4' above normal, the total tide height would be 7-9' above normal.
The tide at Atlantic City peaked at 9.2', one of the highest tides ever recorded at Atlantic City. The
1938 hurricane might have given similar readings, if the gage had been working. The normal waves
riding this elevated ocean would be large and impressive, and capable of producing damage. Yet,
both hurricanes produced a distinctive series of devastating waves, with descriptions of them using
words usually associated with a great tsunami.
If not a tsunami, is there a phenomena associated with hurricanes that could produce such giant
and destructive waves? In the book "Atlantic Hurricanes", by Gordon and Dunn (hereafter
ATLANTIC), this phenomena is called the Hurricane Wave. It is a "very important (though rare)
sea effect which may occasionally be superimposed upon the usual hurricane tide - usually with
disastrous results. This is the hurricane wave, sometimes called a 'tidal wave', although it has nothing
to do with tides. It is nearly always described as a 'wall of water' advancing with great rapidity upon
the coast line". Doesn't this sound familiar! This definition reflects the witness reports for the 1938
and 1944 hurricanes. It also defines the effects of a tsunami. ATLANTIC further states that
authenticated cases are relatively rare, with some authorities even doubting their existence. Recent
correspondence shows this continues to be true to the present. ATLANTIC, and another book,
"Hurricanes", by Tannehill, both give examples of hurricanes which produced the Hurricane Wave.
Neither book, published after 1944, mentions the Jersey shore 1938 and 1944 events. Perhaps the
material presented here on the Mt Holly web site might be considered authenticated cases of
Hurricane Waves, as ATLANTIC stated was needed. However, could these waves of 1938 and 1944
still be actual tsunamis?
Was there any earthquake activity along the east coast previous to the passage of the 1944
hurricane, as there was with 1938? Yes. On September 5th, a 5.6 magnitude quake occurred,
centered 5 miles from Winthrop, NY. The MMI intensity ranged from 6-8 nearest the quake
epicenter, down to MMI 4, felt from Newark, NJ, to Philadelphia, then MMI 3 southward into VA.
This quake occurred just 9 days before the passage of the hurricane, and does present the possibility
that the effects from the hurricane could have been the final trigger in the creation of an offshore
landslide and resultant tsunami. Now, about that 1821 hurricane.
The September 3, 1821, Hurricane Ocean Recession
A tsunami, being a wave, has a trough and a crest. When the trough arrives first, the ocean recedes,
followed by the crest coming ashore. Since the Hurricane Wave, if not an actual tsunami caused by
an offshore land slide, is also a wave, is it possible that the trough could arrive first, with the ocean
actually receding, then followed by the giant crest, as the hurricane is advancing toward a region?
This appears to have happened along the lower Delmarva's Eastern Shore region (at least?) with the
advance of the 1821 hurricane. An account of this is given on the web site of the Ocean City (MD)
Life-Saving Station Museum. The Curator also ordered the April, 1877, magazine, to see if the
original article gave more information than the material originally provided to her. The article was
an interview of "old-timers" who had gone through the 1821 hurricane. This is the report on the 1821
hurricane ocean recession, as given in the April, 1877, "Scribner's Monthly", discussing
Chincoteague Island, The Island Of Ponies:
Many traditions of the island are handed down from mouth to mouth by the natives, but few of
them being able to read or write. It is thus we receive a full account of the great storm and
accompanying tidal wave of the year 1821; telling how the black wrack gathered all one dreadful day
to the southeast; how all night the breathless air, inky black, was full of strange sounds, and pine
needles quivered at the forecasting hurricane that lay in wait in the southward offing; how sea-mews
and gulls hurtled screaming through the midnight air; how in the early morning the terrified
inhabitants, looking from their windows facing the ocean, saw an awful sight: the waters had receded
toward the southward, and where the Atlantic had rolled the night before, miles of sand bars lay bare
to the gloomy light, as the bottom of the Red Sea to the Israelites; then how a dull roar came near
and nearer, and suddenly a solid mass of wind and rain and salt spray leaped upon the devoted island
with a scream. Great pines bent for a moment, and then, groaning and shrieking, were torn from their
centuried growth like wisps of straw and hurled one against the other; houses were cut from their
foundations and thrown headlong; and then a deeper roar swelled the noise of the tempest, and a
monstrous wall of inky waters rushed with the speed of lightning toward the island. It struck
Assateague, and in a moment half the land was a waste of seething foam and tossing pine trunks; the
next instant it struck Chincoteague, and in an unbroken mass swept across the low south marsh flats,
carrying away men and ponies like insects; rushing up the island, tearing its way through the stricken
Many a time by the side of his bright crackling fire, the aged Chincoteaguer, removing his pipe
from the toothless gums where he had been sucking its bitter sweetness, will tell, as the winter wind
roars up from the ocean, how Hickman, with his little grandson clinging to his neck, was swept by
the great wave to King's Bush marsh, far up on the main-land 6 miles away, and caught in the tough
branches of its bushes; or how Andrews, with wife and family swept away in his sight, was borne
up the island on the waters, and the next morning was discovered hanging in a pine-tree, by his
waistband 20' from the ground.
Scribner's Monthly, Vol. xiii, April, 1877, No. 6.
This aged resident, perhaps himself unable to read or write, relayed through time extremely
important information, perhaps forever lost but for the interview. Thank you, Sir!! For other brief
descriptions of MD eastern shore hurricanes and storms, and well as history on the Life-Saving men
and women, visit the Life-Saving Museum's Web site.
A series of extreme waves, tsunamic in nature, attended the passage of both the September
hurricanes of 1938 and 1944. Most of the shore damage occurred with these waves, which witnesses
estimated the crests to range from 25' to near 50'. In Monmouth County, the waves went inland as
far as ½ mile. To the south of Monmouth, the waves passed over the barrier island and crashed onto
the western shores of Barnegat Bay. The backwash of the waves on their return to the ocean did as
much, if not more, damage as when the waves came in. Shore fatalities occurred with the 1944
waves, none before they hit, and none after. Both events appear to be needed authenticated proof of
the existence of the Hurricane Wave as mentioned in ATLANTIC. However, is this rare wave an
integral part of some hurricanes, or is this rare wave an actual tsunami, with the hurricane being only
the trigger which induced offshore slumps or landslides in the canyons or continental shelf. For both
storms, earthquake activity affected the region before their passage. Additional new discoveries have
been released on the existence of pressurized hydrates and pressurized water layers throughout the
continental shelf, with speculation on possible triggers that could cause sudden and perhaps violent
releases of this compressed material, along with the resultant landslide and tsunami. One suggestion
by some scientists as a trigger for the sudden release of hydrates would be a quick warming of the
Perhaps the sudden lowering of pressure with the passage of a hurricane is enough to cause a
release as well. Should a hurricane passage be the trigger for an offshore landslide, the Hurricane
Wave in this case would be a tsunami by current definition. If it can be shown that a hurricane in
itself can not possibly produce an ocean recession, then the 1821 event would be a classic local
tsunami, caused by an offshore slide south of the MD eastern shore region, with the hurricane highly
likely as the trigger for the slide. Further research will continue, and a better idea of the nature of this
Hurricane Wave should begin to emerge, whether it is an integral nature of some hurricanes, an
actual tsunami, or a combination of the two. Whatever is proved or disproved, the 1821, 1938 and
1944 hurricanes show, unfortunately, that the shore lines of the Mid Atlantic region are susceptible
to sudden, monstrous wave attacks with certain hurricanes, described by witnesses as tidal waves,
distinct from the storm surge, and causing near instantaneous damage and possible fatalities.
DID YOU KNOW??
1. On Tuesday, September 24, 1907, the lower East Side of New York City residents were in a
panic, as reported on the front page of the Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal. An amateur weather prophet
had recently predicted that NYC would be swept by a tidal wave during the night to come. The
prophecy, originally published in a monthly magazine, was copied by several Italian and Hebrew
papers. Many families hustled their household effects to the roofs, in the hope of getting them above
the water's reach. Others were leaving the city, and a few even tried to drag small boats through the
streets to places where they would be convenient in the event of the expected inundation. Heavy
rains during the past few days increased the feeling of alarm. The panic caused the police
considerable inconvenience. (There was no tsunami; but, if the predicted giant waves did move in,
these people were prepared!!!)
2. The cause of the November 17, 1872, ME tsunami, previously discussed, is unknown, with
disturbances in the Atlantic suspected. The ME waters were disturbed between midnight and 6 am.
Ever vigilant Megan Sprignate, who connected the similarity of the tsunami-like 1944 hurricane
wave event with those of the 1938 hurricane, sent an article on a "Marine Disaster." On November
17, 1872, at 6 pm, the schooner Belle R. Hull, enroute to NYC from VA, collided with the schooner
John B. Myers, headed for VA, 5 miles SSE of Barnegat, NJ. The Myers sunk in 3/4's of an hour.
The crew made it to shore. Coincidence, Megan asks??
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Since the last Update, research was started on some of the largest earthquakes to strike our region,
with newspaper articles being checked to find any mention of the local waters being disturbed. The
initial research has been successful. It is probable that local tsunamis were created with four of the
earthquakes that have currently been investigated. The earthquakes were powerful for this region,
with the 1884 quake registering 5.2 on the Richter Scale. Large quakes in our region register between
V and VII on the MMI register. Since the MMI registers felt effects of a quake, ranging from the
amount of damage, to the peoples' reaction, quakes with the largest MMI were initially investigated,
as these would have the greatest potential for local tsunami creation. When possible tsunami reveal
themselves in newspaper reports, some caution is still required, as it is possible that the excitement
of the quake could be responsible for inaccurate information to be printed, with further in-print
retractions and corrections almost impossible to be easily obtained. However, with our subject
matter, this possibility should be lower than with other topics of the time, because of the basic nature
of these unusual, rare occurrences. Some of the wording used in the reports might be described
differently in articles printed today.
How the waters in our region respond to earthquakes has never been investigated in detail, because
"such things don't happen here." Do the waters in various locations respond independently to the
quake; do different locations receive an impact from the same traveling wave, or series of waves;
or, is there a combination of responses? One difficulty in determining the response type is the lack
of exact times of the wave occurrences in the differing locations. Usually, only the fairly accurate
time of the earthquake itself is given, with the response on the waters described as "instantaneous",
or similar wording. Uncovering events is the necessary first step before detailed investigations of
their nature can begin. Uncovering them will also help to dispel the fiction that "tsunami does not
happen here." Knowing that they do, tsunami hazard mitigation can be undertaken.
B. NEWLY DISCOVERED MID ATLANTIC EARTHQUAKE-INDUCED
September 1, 1895 - Sunday - South Shore of Long Island
The earthquake struck about 6 am. Summer vacationers, as the locals, were either sleeping or had
just gotten up. The timing of this quake during the early morning hours more than likely precluded
many observations that might have been reported if people had been up and about. The shock lasted
from one-half minute up to 3 minutes, and was severest along the southern shores of Long Island,
especially the Far Rockaway region of western LI. Our one report comes from this area,
Arverne-By-The-Sea, and states that "for a minute or so the surf subsided and the waters became
smooth. A few seconds later they were gathered up in a monstrous wave which swept ocean-ward."
No problem with the "monstrous wave" when tsunami hunting! This expression alone should be
enough reason to eliminate the "probable" in probable tsunami for this event. Should we take the rest
of the witness's account as gospel, or can we "tsunamisize" it, knowing the basic nature of tsunami?
"For a minute or so the surf subsided and the waters became smooth." It appears that conditions
before the quake were normal, with waves of average height breaking on the beach. Then the wave
action stopped, with the ocean becoming smooth. However, the witness also stated that the surf
subsided. This would imply that something else happened besides the water becoming smooth.
Webster's Dictionary defines subside as (1) to sink or fall to the bottom, settle, and (2) to tend
downward, descend, to flatten out so as to form a depression. A synonym of subside is ebb, which
suggests the receding of something (as to the tide) that commonly comes and goes. It is very
possible, if not likely, using the definitions and concepts from the dictionary, that the something else
was an ocean recession! This makes the monstrous wave part of the report more logical.
Not having an ocean recession, the report gives the impression that the monstrous wave rose up
at the shore line then went ocean-ward. With recession (the trough of the wave arriving first), the
monstrous wave was the crest of the tsunami coming in, and then receding. The report does not state
the height of the wave. However, the use of the word monstrous implies something extraordinary.
A major tsunami is consider to be one that is 3' or higher. Monstrous might indicate a tsunami that
is at least eye level with the witness, with perhaps a minimum height of at least 5'. It would appear
that just one wave came in, no substantial damage occurred, and there was no loss of life. Perhaps
it was fortunate that the quake struck about 6 am, while the vacationers, as the locals, were sleeping
or just getting up!
August 10, 1884 - Sunday - Philadelphia, PA to Trenton NJ
and The Highlands, NJ
The earthquake struck about 209 pm and was a strong one for this area, registering 5.2 on the
Richter Scale. It occurred during the afternoon when most people were up and about, and one of the
effects on the waters occurred in Philadelphia. Shipping was affected, especially on the Schuylkill
River's confluence with the Delaware River. From The New York Times:
"The large ships loading petroleum on the Schuylkill River snapped their hawsers, and were only
prevented from going ashore by the united efforts of their crews. Several large steamers were thrown
strongly against the wharves in the lower section of the city, and the crews thrown out of their bunks.
Huge waves backed up the rising tide, overflowed many of the wharves, and considerable property
was flooded thereby. In several instances where persons were watching the river from the docks, they
found themselves suddenly overtaken by waves, and were thoroughly soaked. Deeply laden steamers
in the Delaware trembled without apparent injury during the existence of the shock."
The Captain of the ferry boat “Dauntless,” on the river, was not aware of the quake until docking.
The Chief Officer of the Windsor line steamer “Spartan,” experienced a "shaking of the vessel,
similar to that caused by rolling a truck over the deck." The ship rolled, as if rocked by an unseen
hand, but was positive that the vessel was not in contact with the wharf. The Engineer of the docked
large iron steamer “Lenora” stated that the water in the dock rose considerably. Just a little away
from Port Philadelphia on the NJ side is Gloucester City.
At Gloucester City, the water in the Delaware suddenly arose, and waves 5 to 6' high dashed over
the banks immediately after the vibrations were felt. Several boats in the stream at this place were
upset, the occupants having no warning; and, when they found themselves floundering in the water,
they were unable to account for it. This location is on the border of Gloucester and Camden counties.
A report was received further north from Burlington County. The Captain of the “Doron” noticed
that the vessel reared up on her keel a little about the time the shock occurred. Also in this area, the
waters of the Stop-the-Jade Creek were visibly affected; and, a number of dead fish were found in
the Pensaukin Creek, which fishermen thought were killed by the shock. The last and furthest north
report was from the Delaware and Raritan Canal and the Feeder, where a small tidal wave was
observed. The Feeder brought water from the Delaware River north of Trenton, NJ, into the canal.
The canal from Bordentown, NJ, to Trenton, had 7 locks, because of the difference in elevation of
57' between the two cities. Perhaps this small tidal wave was independent of the river events, or
possibly not. One possible scenario for all these reports is that they all occurred independently of
each other. Another possible scenario connects them all.
The shape of the Delaware Bay is conducive for a tsunami to be funneled into the Delaware River.
The Bay has a wide mouth gently narrowing to the river. A tsunami traveling up the bay would
convert into a bore, which allows the tsunami to travel further inland than it ordinarily would be able
to do. The received river reports suggest this to be a strong possibility, with this bore benefitting
from a rising tide. The very strong river response at Port Philadelphia was at the confluence of the
Schuylkill and Delaware rivers. A bore traveling upstream would tend to become partially diverted
here, moving directly toward the docks on the Schuylkill and creating the reported havoc. The ship
in the deep waters of the Delaware river was basically unaffected. At Gloucester City, the river
snakes sharply, with the bore flowing to the ENE then to the NNW. This would be another natural
impact area for a bore. The next report from Burlington has a vessel rearing up on her keel. This part
of the Delaware river is mostly unidirectional. There probably should not be as much activity in this
region, compared to bend and curve regions. The last report is the canal. The river curve here makes
the canal entrance a natural impact area. If the reported small tidal wave on the canal and feeder was
related to the river bore, it could not have directly entered the canal system because of the lock.
However, a tsunami contains a lot of energy, even as far up a river as Bordentown is. It might be
possible that the wave slammed against the lock and transferred energy into the canal system, thus
creating the small tidal wave. Ocean activity also occurred with this quake.
Steamers in New York Harbor were lifted 4 times in succession by the waves set in motion by the
subterranean convulsions. Two fishermen off the NJ Highlands experienced a variety of sensations.
"They experienced a sensation as though the water had all gone out from under the boat and it was
grating on the sand. The water boiled around them, and they felt a distinct shock, though not like that
which visited the people on shore. The shocks came closely together. The 1st one was like the
concussion from a heavy explosion, and the 2nd was vibratory and the most severe." The brig “Alice,”
arriving from the Turk's island, felt quite plainly the shock, when 7 miles off the Highlands. The
Captain "felt a heavy shock, accompanied by a rumbling noise, and it seemed as if the vessel had
struck a submerged wreck. The shock and rumble continued long enough for the vessel to have
passed over a wreck. The pumps were sounded, but the brig was not found to be leaking." Captain
Strum thought it might have been a quake; but, the shock was the most severe he had ever
experienced, so he initially thought the “Alice” had struck something. The Captains of other arriving
vessels reported feeling the shock.
Many ships, even in deep ocean water, relate the experience in a quake of appearing to have
become suddenly grounded, until a depth reading shows them to still be in deep water. The sailors
then realize that they had experienced the effects of an earthquake. Perhaps our two Highlands
fishermen were close to shore and in shallow water, that they had indeed scraped bottom, should an
ocean recession along the shore had occurred? The water boiled around them is similar to the
description of the storm raging on the Long Island Sound in the 1871 quake. This also describes what
the previously discussed Discovery Channel's program vividly showed, a boiling ocean caused by
the release of hydrate gas. On the Hudson River in the vicinity of Marlborough (Marlboro), NY,
boatmen said they felt a peculiar sensation, and one of two noticed a depression in the channel.
Was this depression a "parting of the waters", with waves being thrown up on both sides of the
river's banks? Or, did a type of river recession occur on the Hudson, in response to the activity in NY
Harbor and the neighboring Atlantic? Using this quake in trying to determine the reaction of Mid
Atlantic rivers flowing into the ocean, perhaps the Hudson depression was a type of river recession,
a version of the trough of a tsunami arriving first; and, the Delaware River havoc was a bore, the
crest of a tsunami arriving first. Because of this Delaware River event, the 1840 Great Swell on the
Delaware River, and, possibly, information-when-found on events on the river during the 1817
quake, deep consideration must be given not only to future tsunami damage along the ocean shores,
but also along the inland banks of vulnerable rivers, with particular attention given to their sudden
bend and curve regions.
June 18, 1871 - Sunday - North Shore Long Island
The earthquake struck about 10 pm. The timing of this quake during the dark hours more than
likely precluded many observations that might have been received, if it was light and people were
up and about. Whereas the 1895 tsunami was described as a monstrous wave, the terminology used
for this event was tidal wave. "A storm raged on the Sound during the convulsion on terra firma"
did not mean a meteorological storm, but that the Sound waters were very disturbed by the quake.
Continuing, "Long Island, in short, appears to have received the full benefit of the tidal wave...". As
is done today, reporters and editors discussing a current event will reference similar events of the
past. The New York Times coverage of the 1884 earthquake referenced the "harmless tidal wave" that
struck LI on the Sound side in 1871. With just this information, it appears that this quake sent a
tsunami into the LI Sound side, with no significant damage nor loss of life occurring, since the
adjective "harmless" was used. LI received the "full benefit" of the tsunami. Did other locations
receive a "lesser" benefit from it? Harmless does not mean it was small. Our witness report ends with
"...and various stories are told of honest citizens frightened almost out of their wits by the strange
phenomenon." This suggests that the tsunami was not small. A major tsunami has a height of 3' or
more. For citizens to be frightened almost out of their wits suggest that the height of this wave was
probably at least eye level, or, 5' or more, a major tsunami. It is a shame that the various stories told
about the strange phenomenon did not make it into print!!!
January 8, 1817 - Philadelphia Region
An article printed in the Philadelphia Inquirer as part of the 1884 earthquake coverage listed some
past quakes that affected the Philadelphia region. It stated that this 1817 quake was the most
important disturbance, "and was sort of a tidal wave, its effects being much more powerful on the
water, though the houses and the churches of the city were rocked."
Ongoing research has uncovered 4 probable tsunami that affected the Mid Atlantic region. The
term "tidal wave" was used for the 1884 wave on the Delaware and Raritan Canal, the 1871 Long
Island wave, and the 1817 event; "monstrous" described the 1895 wave; and "huge" the Port
Philadelphia wave, with a height of 5 to 6' assigned to the wave across the river at Gloucester City.
This is the terminology expected to be used in the 1800s when describing a tsunami. An attempt to
"tsunamisize" witness reports into current terminology on the nature of tsunami reveals the
possibility of an ocean recession with the 1895 wave, and the possibility of a tsunami bore traveling
up the Delaware River at least as far as Bordentown. All waves were produced by earthquakes,
which might allow the "probable" from "probable tsunami" to be removed. Should this be the case,
it proves that earthquakes in the Mid Atlantic region do not have to be extremely powerful to
produce local tsunami. Mid Atlantic tsunami formation seems to correlate better to the MMI scale
vs the Richter. The most reported damage and inconvenience occurred in the 1884 quake, not along
the Atlantic ocean shoreline, but inland on the Delaware River. People got drenched by the waves
at Port Philadelphia, and tossed into the small river flowing into the Delaware at Gloucester City;
and, sailors might have received bumps and bruises as they were tossed out of their bunks while
docked on the Schuylkill.
However, nobody was killed or seriously injured in any of these four events, although 1817 could
change things when that information becomes available. The Delaware River is the longest
free-flowing river in the East, and tidal to Trenton. The Hudson River is tidal up to Troy, NY, a
distance of 150 miles. If the 1884 Delaware river responses are connected to the ocean responses,
the 1840 earthquake-induced Great Swell on the Delaware would support the vulnerability of at least
the Delaware River to tsunami bores. This must be considered as well when establishing a Mid
Atlantic tsunami hazard mitigation program..
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A. 1969 HURRICANE CAMILLE - MORE THAN JUST A CAT 5 STORM.
One of the questions raised in previous discussions on the remarkable waves and ocean recession
associated with past hurricanes in our region was the ability of a hurricane to be the trigger for an
underwater landslide. The answer to this question has been found, and the answer is YES!! The
occurrence happened in August, 1969, during the passage of Hurricane Camille off the LA Delta.
In a US Geological Survey Bulletin on Undersea Landslides, a series of articles discusses the
landslide threat, and past landslides, in US coastal waters from ME to AK. The discussion on slope
failures offshore the Mississippi River delta includes a description of the destruction caused by a
slide produced by Camille. Camille was one of only three CAT 5 hurricanes to strike the US. The
damage produced on land from both wind and water is generally well known. The damage produced
under the water is not. As in our Mid Atlantic "event within an event" tsunamic wave attacks
associated with hurricanes, the investigation of Camille has produced documented damage to
offshore oil rigs from a hurricane-produced submarine landslide. What is the suggested main culprit
for hurricane-induced submarine landslides? Wave action.
Sea floor composition varies widely along the shores of the US. In the LA Delta region, the
Mississippi River is responsible for massive amounts of sediment deposited offshore annually,
making this the best example of a highly susceptible continental shelf slope failure region, even
though the shelf slopes gently. Sonar data has revealed numerous slides, and a considerable changing
of the sea floor over time. The USGS produced report states that hurricanes can cause sea floor slope
failures, as shown dramatically with Camille, and suggests the trigger to be what is called "cyclic
loading" of the sea floor by passing waves. This means that as large waves pass, the crests produce
elevated pressure on the sea floor, while the troughs produce lowered pressure. The passage of many
waves "loads" the sea floor cyclically and gradually lowers the strength of the sea bed sediment.
This, combined with the inherent instability of the sedimentary sea bed, causes eventual failure.
What happened in Camille?
The submarine slide caused by Camille destroyed one offshore oil rig platform and damaged 2
others. Destroyed platform "B" was in 100 meters of water. Detailed investigations after the
destruction showed that "B" fell to the west, moved downslope about 30 meters, and was half buried
in mud. At South Pass, located at the tip of the Delta, wave heights of 21 to 23 meters (66 to 75'!)
were recorded before the instruments used to measure the wave heights failed. Near the "B" area,
there were bottom relief changes of up to 12 meters. At the "B" site, the sea floor dropped over 1.5
meters. Major reductions in sediment strength occurred to depths of 24 meters. The piles of "B"
failed by bending, rather than pullout. The conclusion of the investigators was that sediment mass
movement (slides) were a primary cause of the toppling of "B", and the major damage to the 2
nearby platforms. Except for the height of the waves at South Pass, the waves were not discussed
in further detail, whether they were occurring frequently at this tremendous height, or if the
instruments measured perhaps a brief series of such waves before being destroyed. The path of
Camille suggests that it might be almost impossible to assign part of the measured wave heights to
the slide-produced probable tsunami. Camille passed very close to South Pass on her way to
Mississippi, and could have received the highest storm waves that the hurricane was able to produce.
The southern section of the South Pass peninsula was scoured clean. (For a map of LA, click here,
and then on Map Collection/United States/Louisiana. South Pass is at the very tip of Plaquemines
Parrish). Since Camille, a few other events have occurred which either document or suggest the
possibility of hurricane-produced or intense-storm produced submarine landslides, which always
infers the possibility of tsunami.
In the USGS Submarine Landslide book, the last article discusses an event which provided a rare
opportunity to observe a slide more directly than ever before. This occurred with Hurricane Iwa at
Kahe Point, Oahu, HI, on November 23, 1982. As part of an Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion
(OTEC) project, a series of sea-floor surveys and instrument deployments had previously been
undertaken at Kahe Point. The displacement of these self-contained ocean current meters by the
submarine slide during the passage of Iwa provided measurements of the timing, velocity of
movement, and change of water depth as sediment was displaced to deeper water. Discussions
remain amongst experts as to the cause of the slide, whether "cyclic loading", or storm surge. Both
are still hurricane-induced. No mention of tsunami is made, although a calculation of minimum wave
heights of 9 meters (~27') were likely offshore Kahe Point. Professor Gerald Fryer of the University
of Hawaii at Manoe mentions in correspondence the occurrence of “orphan tsunami” in HI, tsunami
with no known origin, always in winter months, always on the north shores, and always when a big
sea is running. A well documented November 29, 1903, tsunami was witnessed by Johnny Wilson,
a future mayor of Honolulu. Professor Fryer has gathered information pointing to a very
slow-moving storm to the north of the islands as the cause for this tsunami. He suggests that "cyclic
loading" created a submarine slide and the resultant tsunami, of which waves of 30' hit NW Maui.
1969 Camille offers documented proof that hurricanes can cause submarine landslides, with
Hurricane Iwa in support. Professor Fryer's discussion on HI orphan tsunami points to large storms
as another cause of submarine slides with resultant tsunami. Our Mid Atlantic territory under the
ocean is different than that of the offshore waters of LA and HI. However, NJ and her surrounding
states are similar to the Gulf of Mexico and Pacific Ocean states when it comes to evidence of slides,
and have a vulnerability to hurricanes and large storms. The Jersey shore also shares their experience
of tsunamic wave attacks 30' or greater. In tsunami terminology, a tsunami earthquake is an
earthquake that produces a tsunami larger than expected for its magnitude. This recently happened
in Papua-New Guinea, and the cause for the larger than expected tsunami was a submarine landslide
caused by the earthquake. Perhaps the term tsunamic hurricane should be used for a hurricane which
produces a series a waves much larger than expected for the category of that hurricane, especially
when those particular waves look like, act like, and have all the characteristics of, a classic tsunami.
The Tsunami Data Base codes tsunami by cause, and there is a code for meteorologically-induced
B. Volcanoes - A Threat To The Mid Atlantic Region???
There are no volcanoes anywhere near NJ and the other Mid Atlantic states. There are none in the
eastern 2/3rds of the USA and Canada. Bermuda is benign. The closest volcanoes are deep in the
Caribbean islands chain to our south. To the east they range from Iceland and through the Canary
and Cape Verde Islands. None of these could pose a threat to NJ; or, could they? Yes, they can, and
it is the eastern Atlantic volcanoes that currently pose the greatest threat, not only to the Mid Atlantic
states, but to the entire coast from ME to FL. Throughout geological history, these volcanoes have
had a nasty habit of sending a large part of their islands plunging suddenly into the ocean. This is part
of the natural evolution of these islands. Like the HI islands, they are located over what is called a
"hot spot." Over thousands of years, they grow first underwater, emerge from the ocean, then grow
larger and larger with each successive eruption. Unlike the HI islands, the Cape Verde and Canary
islands form steep slopes. The problem for NJ lies in the next step of the evolution of these islands.
Many of the islands in these volcanic chains are smaller now than they were before. This is so
because the next step in the islands' evolution is the breaking off of a substantial section into the
ocean. Historically, 11 giant landslides have been discovered in the Canary islands of La Palma, El
Hierro, Tenerife, Fuerteventura, and Grand Canaria, with 4 having occurred on El Hierro. Some of
these collapses could be multiple collapses, with the latest slide covering up the evidence of an
earlier slide. The amount of material that has been removed from some of the islands exceeds their
current acreage. It is estimated that during the oldest known El Hierro slide, the Tinor Giant
Landslide, 1/2 of the island disappeared under the sea. There would be no problem to NJ if the land
just slipped silently into the ocean. Unfortunately, this is only the beginning step for NJ problems.
The Great Splash makes a Great Wave. This tsunami is called a megatsunami, and would cross the
Starting out taller than the Empire State Building, the wave slowly decreases in size while crossing
the Atlantic. Unfortunately, when the tsunami reaches the east coast, the height will still be on the
order of 150', and will penetrate +/- 12 miles inland, depending on the configuration of the coastline.
Jersey shore residents who went through the 1938 and 1944 hurricanes witnessed the destruction that
a sudden attack of waves as high as 50' can do. The imagination is not taxed by what a sudden attack
of waves as high as 150' would do. Knowing where the problem emanates from and what could
happen here, is it known when the event will happen? Perhaps an idea of this can be obtained by
looking at which volcano island has any "near-collapse capability." There are at least 2 that pose an
Professor Simon Day of the Benfield Greig Hazard Research Centre at University College London
has discovered unstable islands. You can see Professor Day investigating one of these islands on the
Discovery Channel program "Megatsunami." He states that the Cumbre Vieja on La Palma in the
Canary islands is the prime candidate for a flank collapse, and this island is the subject matter for
"Megatsunami." During a 1949 eruption, a non-lava crack appeared. Professor Day also suggests that
the "runner-up" after La Palma is the Cha das Caldeiras volcano on Fogo in the Cape Verdes, where
flank movement occurred during a 1951 eruption. He stresses that much more investigation of other
east Atlantic volcanic islands is needed, now that this particular threat has become known. For the
bad news, Professor Day and others have concluded that any crack appearing at the surface is the last
stage before flank failure. For the good news, there is very little, if any, movement of the land mass
between eruptions .For a little more good news, just because the surface crack appears does not mean
that the slide will occur during the very next eruption.
For Tsunami Warning purposes, the travel time of the wave(s) would be known, and a timely
Warning could be issued. By the time the next slide occurs, inundation maps for the east coast should
have been prepared, showing who is at great risk. The Portuguese especially, but other western
Europe and NW African countries, take the threat of tsunami, and this threat of megatsunami, very
seriously. Professor Day states that with effective tsunami mitigation programs, all but last-minute
preparations could be made up to the actual collapse. A reliable means of predicting a collapse
during an eruption is needed. Such tsunami mitigation programs are being done on the 2
slide-candidate islands. Professor Day relays:"If the main mechanism of pore fluid pressurization
is heating of groundwater, then the onset of collapse could take weeks or even months after the start
of an eruption. The key here is obviously effective monitoring of the volcanoes, as with the USGS
volcano observatory on HI.
Principal requirements include accurate location of earthquakes so that seismic activity associated
with the magma conduits can be separated from earthquakes on the developing landslide rupture
under the flank; continuous or semi-continuous monitoring of surface deformation as the flank
begins to move, either with tilt meters, frequent geodetic surveys, or (much better) continuous
recording GPS; on-the-ground and remote observation of growth of surface fault ruptures along the
headwall and sides of the unstable flank; and some means of detecting changes in groundwater levels
or pore fluid pressures (in gas discharges, microgravity measurements, or electromagnetic surveys).
Most of the necessary infrastructure is now in place at Fogo, in the form of a monitoring system
being run by Joao Fonseca and colleagues. Unfortunately, the level of monitoring of the Cumbre
Vieja volcano on La Palma is much less complete."
So, volcanoes do indeed pose not only a threat, but a grave threat, not only to the Mt Holly
Forecast Office's coastal areas, but to the entire east coast of the USA. The work of Professor Day
and numerous other scientists have alerted the Atlantic basin nations to this threat of megatsunami
upon volcanic island flank collapse, an event that has happen in the past much more than once. The
Discovery Channel program ended with the warning that if east coast residents hear of a volcanic
eruption in the eastern Atlantic, they should pay very close attention to their news media!!
What about those Caribbean volcanoes?? As with all active volcanoes, you never know when they
will erupt. When Caribbean volcanoes do erupt, they can be extremely deadly. The year 1902 is a
good example. At the beginning of 1902, Mt Pelee on Martinique, and Mt Soufriere on St Vincent,
began to awaken from their slumber. On May 7th, Soufriere erupted, sending pyroclastic flows down
the mountain, which killed over 1,000 people. The next day, Pelee erupted. Pelee's eruption was
similar to the 1980 St Helen's eruption, with a collapse on the side of the mountain sending a
pyroclastic flow downslope. Pelee's flow was much more powerful and faster moving, and is called
a surge. It took only minutes to reach the shore; unfortunately, the city of St Pierre was in the way.
By the time the pyroclastic surge hit harbor waters, +/- 30,000 people, all but one of the inhabitants
of the city, were dead, making this the deadliest pyroclastic surge in recorded history. There were
ships in the harbor.
When the surge began to move offshore, it lifted the harbor waters into a massive boiling tsunami.
All ships went on their sides, most then going to the bottom. Those few that rolled back up were on
fire, with most sailors dead or severely burned. A couple of ships managed to eventually make it to
port in St Lucia, with the survivors being able to give eyewitness reports to this the most deadly
pyroclastic surge in recorded history. Land undersea was sinking or rising. Eruptions, occasionally
major, on both Pelee and Soufriere, continued throughout 1902, and did, as the first one, produce
local tsunami. So, anything up with these Caribbean volcanoes? It would be probably most prudent
for Mid Atlantic residents to listen to their local news for the progress of any Caribbean volcanic
eruptions, as is recommended for the eastern Atlantic volcanoes. Mitigation is the best plan of action,
and the first mitigation rule in regards to volcanoes should be that they are never to be trusted in
what they can or cannot do, even when separated from you by an ocean.
A special thanks to Professor Day for the library of information on the megatsunami threat that he
mailed me, and to the time he took with numerous e-mails to respond to any of my theories and
(Note: For a view of any of the above mentioned islands, or any other country in the world, use
this location, then click on the wanted location. If not on this list, use a link to find it.)
C. SUBMARINE LANDSLIDES: THREAT TO THE MID ATLANTIC
COAST FROM LOCAL TSUNAMI
When the territorial waters of the United States extended out only a few miles, the knowledge of
offshore landslides was very limited. Near shore regions were well mapped, and some slides were
identified when major changes in water depth or sea-floor relief were observed, perhaps by
fishermen or divers. In 1983, President Reagan extended the territory of the USA out to 200 miles,
and added 3 million square miles to the size of this country, an area about 30% larger than our entire
land area! This new territory is called the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Having this new territory
without knowing what was exactly there necessitated the mapping of the sea floor. Most of the
mapping has been accomplished, and it is now well known that the occurrence of landslides on the
US Atlantic continental slope is more widespread than rare. On the continental slope from the
Georges Bank to Cape Hatteras, major slide clusters are located south of New England, east of
Atlantic City, and southeast of the mouth of the Delaware Bay. From the Hudson Canyon eastward
to south of MA, there are so many slides ranging from small to exceptionally large that this region
is termed a Landslide Complex. Debris from slides in the western part of this complex flowed into
different sections of the Hudson Canyon, partially filling one section. The ages of the slides is
difficult to determine.
Obviously, in the Hudson Canyon cases, the slides occurred after the Hudson Canyon formation.
We would be especially interested in slides that occurred after the formation of the USA. USGS
articles studying these undersea slides postulate that earthquakes could be the major historical cause
of slides in this area. The 1755 Cape Ann, MA quake, the 1886 Charleston, SC quake, and the 1929
Grand Banks quake show that powerful quakes do occur. It is now known that quakes of lesser
strength can produce tsunami in the Mid Atlantic region. Hurricanes, as proven by Camille, and other
powerful storms can also produce submarine landslides. As time progresses, perhaps the aging
process of the land under the ocean proceeds to the point where the constant and powerful force of
gravity just takes over. With slides and slide complexes located off the Mid Atlantic coast, it would
be wise to consider the threat of local tsunami as a very real threat. Past waves 10 to 15' high
suddenly coming ashore out of the blue might have been completely unexplainable at the time. With
the mapping of the ocean floor, a developing pictorial data base has been established. When a future
slide occurs, a detailed analysis of it can be made using before and after pictures. Perhaps the only
question remaining is, would a slide from whatever cause, sending in sudden 10 to 15' waves, be
large enough to be detectable in the pictorial data base?? Maybe a tour of the ocean bottom via
GLORIA mapping might give us a hint. The On-Line Mosaics section will give an overview of the
GLORIA Index Map of the US Atlantic Continental Margin. An explanation of the different sections
can be found by clicking on the Atlantic Continental Margin GLORIA geology interpretation - text.
The following is a quick beforehand look at what slides are located where.
Mosaic 02 and 07: Munson-Nygren Landslide Complex
Mosaic 05: Block Canyon Landslide, Atlantis Canyon Landslide, and Nantucket Canyon
Mosaic 06: Veatch Canyon Landslide.
( Note: Mosaics 05 and 06 are the Southeast New England Landslide Complex.)
Mosaic 08 and 09: Landslide in 08 feeds into the landslide in 09.
Mosaic 12: Cape Lookout Landslide.
Mosaic 16: Cape Fear Landslide, merging with Lookout slide.Mosaic 21: Blake Escarpment Landslide.
D. An Investigation: Trying To Tie In A Known Tsunami Event With
The Correct Time Of Occurrence.
Mention has been made previously that tsunami have been witnessed along the Mid Atlantic
shores, but the exact year had been forgotten with time. Two examples given were in the mid 70s
and the mid 40s. One might then suspect that past tsunami could have become part of the family
legends of long time shore dwellers. Indeed, this turns out to be so. One of the neighbors of Joe
Penrose (See: 1938 Hurricane Experiences) was Gail Anderson, who still lives in Seaside Park, NJ.
Her family extends back into the 1800s as shore residents. As long term residents, the ocean and the
history of the region are in the blood. So is the passed down recollection of a major tsunami.
Mrs. Anderson relates the legend as told to her as a very young girl by her shore extended family's
"Aunt Stella". Using ages, Mrs. Anderson estimates the event as occurring in the mid 1890s.
Whether the witnesses were fishermen preparing for the day's work, or residents taking a casual
beach stroll, they had no reason to suspect that anything unusual was about to occur. There is no way
of knowing who was the first to notice that the ocean seemed to be receding. It would not be long
before everybody became aware that the ocean was receding; and, it withdrew for about a mile! The
vast ocean-less expanse now revealed fascinating things ranging from flapping fish to shipwrecked
vessels, enough fascinating things to lure people out for a closer look(!). Did the fishermen go out
to gather the flapping fish? Opportunities like this do not happen every day. Did others march out
into the muck just out of curiosity, or, perhaps sensing an opportunity to discover previously hidden
treasures? There is no way of knowing who was the first to notice that line approaching in the distant
ocean. It would not take long before everybody noticed that the approaching line was a huge wave,
then everybody began to run for their lives! There is no mention in the family legend on how high
the wave was. The ocean withdrawal made the greatest impression. However high the wave, there
were probably no fatalities, since this would likely have been part of the pass down. One would
suspect that this ocean recession was not a local effect.
Mrs. Anderson's credentials not only is established by her family's longevity at the shore, but by
her historical interest and research, as shown by the book "Seaside Park: Memories &
Remembrances", authored by her and her son Andrew J. Anderson. The second eyewitness report
of this major tsunami event is relayed by another long term shore resident, and a past President of
the Ocean County Historical Society. Her son-in-law's mother states that a relative was at Sandy
Hook, and he witnessed an unexpected ocean withdrawal and tidal wave, this event being shortly
before his death in the mid 1890s. Since ocean recessions are not exactly an annual occurrence, this
report would tend to substantiate the event that occurred further south, and as occurring at the same
time. Sandy Hook is across NY Harbor from Averne-by-the-Sea, with both locations near the
epicenter of the 1895 earthquake. (See: September 1, 1895 earthquake discussion). At first glance,
it would appear that the 1895 earthquake was the cause of a major tsunami, with the trough coming
in first as a major ocean recession along the NJ and LI shores. However, there are a few other players
in this investigation, occurring in the mid 1890s, that must be considered, before the quake can
definitely be labeled as the cause of this tsunami. One is the Great 1893 Hurricane.
1893 and 1894 were active Mid Atlantic tropical seasons. Four systems affected the region in 1893,
with perhaps the fringe effects of 2 others being felt in the region. 1894 saw 2 hurricanes moving
through the Mid Atlantic waters. The August 23-24, 1893, hurricane was by far the strongest, on an
intensity level with the hurricanes of 1938, 1821, and 1815. Before the storm hit, Hog Island, off the
Rockaways, NY, was a popular summer resort. After the storm, not only was the resort gone, but so
was the island!. From previous discussions on the 1821, 1938, and 1944 hurricanes, as well as
Hurricane Camille, it is now known that undersea landslides, ocean withdrawals, and extreme
tsunamic waves do occur with some hurricanes. The 1893 hurricane, especially, remains in
competition with the 1895 earthquake as the cause of the mid 1890s Great Mid Atlantic Ocean
Withdrawal. Perhaps future information will reveal enough to pinpoint the exact cause of this
tsunami. If this event occurred in the early morning hours under fair skies, with skies fair for the
remainder of the day, the September 1, 1895, earthquake would be the cause of this tsunami. If
rapidly deteriorating weather occurred with, or moved in afterwards, and especially during an
afternoon/early evening time frame, it would be more likely that the 1893 hurricane was the cause;
and this would be the second known hurricane to have produced a major ocean recession along the
Mid Atlantic region. The Sandy Hook/Averne connection seems to point to the quake.
E. Did You Know?
1. There is a school of thought by some scientists that, when volcanoes suddenly erupt almost
simultaneously in various parts of the world, there is an as yet unknown connection. Some
newspaper articles also suggest unknown volcanoes!! Pelee and Soufriere started to stir as early as
the very beginning of 1902. A January 9, 1902, New York Times article headlined "Kentucky
Volcano Active", Owingsville, KY. The article reported:
Smoke Pours from Sugar Loaf Mountain and People Are Alarmed.
"A volcano on Sugar Loaf Mountain in Rowan County is assuming large proportions. There are
five fissures on the side of the mountain from which smoke pours in considerable volume,
accompanied by a deep rumbling noise. All the trees in the vicinity are blasted and splintered. The
people in that region are terror-stricken and are preparing to move. The volcano is about 3 miles
An article in the Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal on September 18, 1902, reported that Soufriere had
been active since the 11th. An adjacent article headlined "Volcano In Ohio", Bainbridge, OH. The
"People living in the Paint creek valley are alarmed over the appearance of smoke and sulphurous
gases from Copperas mountain, which can be seen from this place. Ever since the first eruption of
Mount Pelee smoke has issued from the mountain at intervals, but only within the past few days have
the smoke and gas become especially noticeable, and many attribute it to the recent eruptions in
Martinique. Investigation shows that the slate in the mountain has become hot, and some of it has
become a dull red from the action of the heat. The smoke issues from the side and not the top of the
mountain, and scientists will be asked to make a thorough investigation."
Also in the Journal on November 19th, it was reported that Soufriere was active again. And, an
adjacent article headlined "Utah Volcano In Eruption", Salt Lake City, UT. The article reported:
"According to D. A. Turner of Milford, UT, an old volcano forming part of the Wasatch range in
southern UT between Beaver and Piute counties, which apparently has been extinct for centuries,
has broken out afresh. Explosions apparently emanating from the crater have been heard for miles
around, while at times columns of smoke and dust have arisen from the old volcano, and new lava
formations, all very hot, have been found on the sides of the mountain."
Obviously, the major school of thought on Appalachian volcanoes is that there are none. USGS
OH suggests forest fires in the heavily wooded area as a cause for the Bainbridge report.
Owingsville, KY, is not that far away from Bainbridge. Should any in depth investigation be possible
showing that there were no forest fires, could the forces that caused the in tandem eruptions of Pelee
and Soufriere also be responsible for a "last gasp" in the Appalachians???
2. Do you remember the New York City Great Tidal Wave Scare mentioned in a previous Did You
Know? Atlantic City had a similar scare in 1902, with the wave predicted for August 18th, and
expected to wipe Atlantic City off the face of the earth! The day turned out to be sunny with the
ocean as calm as a mountain lake. However, a rumor was started that a black line, supposed to be
the tidal wave, was spotted far out to sea, extending down the coast, and approaching shore. The
rumored wave never arrived, and much fear had already been alleviated by the chief of the Weather
Bureau's official interview in the morning paper ridiculing the prediction. The possible Great Wave
caused thousands to leave the city, with some commerce being disrupted. Conversely, thousands
arrived to see the Great Wave! Pointing out the smarter group of people is not necessary. A Cape
May weather phenomena that occurred on August 24th revived some of the tidal wave fear. There
was a "Startling Spectacle of Several Waterspouts", and "People Thought the Predicted Tidal Wave
An instability line formed offshore southern NJ on this pleasant Sunday late morning. Clouds
began to darken offshore, and then the first waterspout formed. The black line of the clouds was
reminiscent of the black line tidal wave rumor of the previous week. By 1 pm Cape May dining time,
6 spouts had occurred, with some threatening to come onshore. Periods of torrential rain and vivid
lightning occurred. Then the sun came out, and by 3 pm, all was calm. The timid had fled, but those
who had remained were rewarded with how waterspouts form, especially the one that formed only
100' offshore. Church attendance was unusually large that night.
3. The great Galveston, TX, hurricane of September 8, 1900, killed thousands of people that day.
However, not all fatalities attributed to the storm were killed on the 8th. As the storm curved through
the Mid West, it became an extra-tropical storm as it moved northeast through the Great Lakes on
the 11th. On the 12th, the extra-tropical storm moved along the northern NY state border and into
northern ME. This still powerful storm created damaging SW gales in areas on the right side of its
movement. It is also known to have killed two people on the 12th. According to the NYT, a Buffalo,
NY, lady was struck by a live wire in front of her home and was killed instantly. Her husband, who
went to her rescue, was severely burned. In New York City, a man from Birmingham, AL, was
walking along Broadway. A flagpole was blown from the roof of a building and fatally struck the
pedestrian. The storm reached the east coast of Newfoundland on the morning of the 13th. If the
storm killed no one later in the day and overnight on the 12th to the 13th, it is highly likely that the
last fatality of the Galveston hurricane occurred in New York City!
Not all of the casualties of the hurricane were residents of Galveston. “Word has been received at
Bordentown, NJ, of the deaths at Galveston of Mrs Mary Barnard, widow of Capt Barnard, and
Misses Maggie and Emma Huoble. All were sisters of Mrs Mahlon F Shreve, of Bordentown, and
perished in the flood.” New Jersey Mirror, Mt Holly, NJ, Wed, Sep 19, 1900.
4. If the Galveston hurricane occurred in a period when storms were named, what letter of the
alphabet would this one have had? The answer is "A"! 1900 was very similar to 1992, with the first
occurring late in the season, only 7 named storms for the year, and about half of them hurricanes.
The first named storm in 1992 was "Andrew".
5. It is possible that a meteor caused damage to an Elmira, NY, neighborhood during the evening of
February 4, 1900. An explosion shortly after 8 pm shattered windows in several residences on upper
West Water street. A diligent search for the cause by police, firemen and newspaper men failed to
find the cause of the disturbance. However, one of the residents of the damaged houses said she saw
a great ball of fire descend from the sky at the time of the explosion. NYT: Mon-Feb 5, 1900.
Go to Top
Go to Questions
UPDATE - AUGUST 2003
A. TSUNAMI EXPERTS’ DECISIONS ON MT HOLLY TSUNAMI RESEARCH
“Several new tsunami events have come to light as the United States East Coast history
is being scrutinized by those interested in historical tsunami. At the same time sonar is
revealing new features that may have been the source of tsunami in the past. Modeling
of the waves generated by the 1755 earthquake off the coast of Portugal suggest that the
waves would have had a major impact on the East Coast had the area been densely
populated at the time. The East Coast of the United States was formerly thought to be
relatively free from tsunami. Today several lines of research are suggesting a different
picture. These theories coupled with the history of large waves on the United States’
East Coast cause us to rethink and reevaluate the tsunami hazard for this heavily
This quote is taken from “Tsunamis And Tsunami-Like Waves Of The Eastern United States,”
Special Tsunami Data Issue
. (1) This article discusses the material sent to the authors at the
National Geophysical Data Center at Boulder, CO, and includes their decisions on the events as
discussed in previous sections of this web site. Decisions of events are assigned what is known as
a Tsunami Validity Rating scale ranging from V0 to V4, which is as follows:
- V0 Tsunami did not occur; the cited literature is considered in error or invalid.
- V1 The tsunami is considered unlikely or doubtful. Information is considered unreliable, but
the possibility of a tsunami cannot be ruled out.
- V2 A tsunami may or may not have occurred; data are insufficient to ascertain occurrence.
- V3 The tsunami is considered likely or probable.
- V4 A tsunami did occur; information is considered reliable.
In many cases, sources contradict each other. In these cases, reference has been made
to the primary source cited by others. There is much subjectivity in assigning validity
as the authors must interpret the judged accuracy of others, many of whom wrote in
languages unfamiliar to the authors or during times that conditioned their observations
and recordings.” (2)
The following are the Validity decisions on the events submitted by NWS, Mt Holly:
||Synopsis of Event
|1817, Jan 8.
||The earthquake in the Philadelphia area caused the most important disturbance and was sort of a tidal wave. "the river was much agitated..."
|1821, Sep 3.
||The Great Hurricane Ocean Recession, followed by a tidal wave. Fatalities.
|1871, Jun 18.
||Long Island Sound “appears to have received the full benefit of the tidal wave...”
||Experiences of a sailing party. Is this the beginning of a tsunami at sea approaching land?
|1884, Aug 10.
||Earthquake generated tsunami, Mid Atlantic region.
|1895, Sep 1.
||Earthquake generated tsunami, western Long Island.
|1909, Sep 22.
||Tidal wave along LA coast, after a hurricane had moved inland.
|1913, Jun 9.
||Damage from violent ocean, Longport, NJ.
|1923, Aug 6.
||Huge waves at Rockaway Park, Queens, NY. Fatalities.
|1924, Aug 8.
||Huge waves at Coney Island, NY. Injuries.
|1931, Aug 19.
||Huge waves at Atlantic City, NJ. Fatalities.
|1938, Sep 21.
||Giant wave attacks along NJ coast, after a hurricane had moved into New England. Injuries.
|1944, Sep 14.
||Giant wave attacks along NJ coast, after a hurricane had moved well away from the coast. Fatalities.
Two events have been designated tsunami. Six events had fatalities and others injuries. The 3
hurricane events received a V1, keeping the possibility open that the terrible waves of all 3, as well
as the ocean recession followed by a tidal wave preceding the 1821 hurricane, could have been the
result of underwater slides set off by the wave action of the hurricanes, and, tsunami. Additionally,
the extensive treatment given to these hurricane-associated waves in the article points to the
seriousness that the tsunami experts have given to this type of event. Should further information be
uncovered in the future, these validity classifications could be upgraded. Meanwhile, there are more
tsunami and tsunami-like events that have occurred along the east coast waiting to be discovered.
Repeating the earlier call to arms, should any reader have information on extraordinary or
suspicious ocean events, whether from clipped newspaper articles, references in historical books or
family legend, we at NWS and NGDC would like to know of them. Should any reader wish to
further investigate these now known events in their local newspaper and find further information,
we would be very grateful, with credit given to those who submit information on these extremely
important and potentially deadly events.
(1) Lockridge, Patricia A, Lowell S Whiteside and James F Lander, NGDG, Tsunami and
Tsunami-Like Waves Of The Eastern United States, Science of Tsunami Hazards, The
International Journal of the Tsunami Society, Vol 20, No 3, pp 120-157 (2002).
(2) Validity Rating table and quotation from Lander, James F, Lowell S Whiteside and Paul
Hattori, The Tsunami History of Guam: 1849-1993, Science of Tsunami Hazards, Vol 20, No 3, p 62 (2002).
B. TSUNAMIC HURRICANES
It has become evident that some hurricanes do not behave as textbooks would have them do.
Waves 50' high crash across the NJ coast when the hurricanes are already in New England or well
offshore. The ocean recedes in the Delmarva region ahead of an advancing hurricane, then comes
back as a devastating tidal wave. Coastal residents of LA begin to feel relaxed as their hurricane
moves further inland, and then the tidal wave roars in, running inland 10 miles. Past expert hurricane
scientists site a rare phenomenon called Raz de Maree’, or, Rise of the Sea, an event whose
definition is interchangeable with a classic tsunami and describes the gigantic wave events of these
destructive hurricanes. The questions are begged, how many hurricanes have been associated with
a Raz? Was the Raz with, before, or after the hurricane? Did the Raz fit the estimated maximum
height of waves added to a storm surge? Did any earthquake occur about the same time? Does the
Raz occur world-wide? Is the Raz an integral part of some hurricanes, or in reality tsunami? A listing
of known events, with the terminology of the time used to describe them, must be the first necessary
step in determining, what exactly are these extremely dangerous and deadly waves? Dunn & Miller,
and Tannehill, list some past events. The page number follows the book reference.
1. 1666, Aug 4 St Christopher, Guadeloupe and Martinique.
Sea rose and was driven to an unusual height. 2,000+ dead. (T 143)
2. 1713, Sep 16-17 - Charleston, SC.
Immense inundation from the sea. Many vessels driven ashore. (T 243)
3. 1737 Mouth of the Houghly River, near Calcutta, India.
40' storm wave, killed 300,000. (D 216)
1737, Oct 7 Mouth of the Hooghly River, Bay of Bengal.
Storm wave rose 40'. 300,000 dead. (T 32)
4. 1772, Aug 31 Santa Cruz, Cuba.
Sea rose 72' above its usual height. Carried every ship ashore, some 300'
inland. Large stone brought down from the mountains. (T 144)
5. 1780, Oct 3 Savanna-la-Mar, Jamaica.
Residents gazing in astonishment at the sea. On a sudden, bursting through
all bounds and surmounting all obstacles. (T 145-6)
1780, Oct 3 Link to an earthquake? Storm surge, then earthquake-induced tsunami. (L 68)
6. 1787, Sep 23 Belize.
Sea rose. Great damage was caused by overflow. (T 247)
7. 1789, Dec Coringa, on the Bay of Bengal.
3 monstrous waves coming in, following each other at short distances.
1st wave swept everything in its passage. 2nd wave inundated all the low
country. 3rd wave overwhelmed everything. Coringa destroyed. 20,000
dead. (T 31)
9. 1839, Nov Coringa.
Storm wave, inundation equaled 1789. (T 32)
10. 1864 Mouth of the Hooghly River, near Calcutta, India. 50,000 drowned. (D 216)
1864, Oct The Calcutta Cyclone, mouth of the Hooghly River.
Storm wave rose 40'. 50,000 dead. 100,000 head of cattle drowned. (T 38)
11. 1875, Sep 15 Indianaolo, TX.
176 killed. (D 216)
1875, Sep 16 Indianaola, Tx.
176 killed. (T 36)
12. 1876, Oct The Backergunge Cyclone, Bay of Bengal.
Enormous storm wave, unusual high tide. 100,000 dead, 100,000 from disease
as a result of inundation. (T 38)
1876 Backergunge, India.
Storm tide and wave killed 100,000, while 100,000 more died of disease
following the storm. (D 216)
13. 1881 Haifung, China.
30,000 killed by drowning or subsequent starvation. (D 216)
1881 Haifung, China.
Storm wave typhoon. 300,000 dead. (T 40)
14. 1885, Sep The False Point Cyclone, Bay of Bengal.
Wave 22'. With eye wall. (T39)
15. 1886, Aug 19-20 Indianaolo, TX.
Town destroyed by wave and never rebuilt. (D 216)(T34)
16. 1886, Oct 12 Sabine, TX.
Tidal wave drowned 100. (Storm intensity-minimal) (D 305)
17. 1888, Aug 31-Sep 8 Cuba.
Whole towns along coast swept out of existence by giant waves. (T259)
18. 1893, Aug 27 Charleston, SC.
Tremendous wave drowned between 1,000 and 2,000. (D 216)
1893, Aug 27 Charleston, Savannah Island.
Tremendous wave, submerged island. 1,000+ dead. (T 160)
19. 1893, Oct 1 LA & MS coasts.
Tidal wave killed 1,800. (D 216)
1893, Oct 1 New Orleans, LA.
Tidal wave, engulfed everything before it. 2.000 dead. (T 161)
20. 1899, Aug 8 Puerto Rico.
Tidal wave destroyed Humacuo. 80 dead. (T 162)
21. 1900, Sep 8 Galveston, TX.
6,000+ killed, mostly from drowning. (Cemetery vault found 10 miles inland.)
(T 36)(D 216)
22. 1903, Jan 13 Society Islands, South Pacific.
Wall of water 40' high, with center of storm. 1,000 dead. (T 40)
23. 1905, Jun 30 Southern Marshall Islands, at Mille.
46' wave. Great damage. (T 40)
24. 1906, Oct 9 Bluefields and north Honduras.
15' tide, came in form of a tidal wave. (T 161)
25. 1912, Nov 18 Black River, Jamaica.
Tidal waves. Great damage from winds and tidal waves. (T 178)
26. 1919, Sep 14 Corpus Christi, TX.
Tide 16' above normal. 284 killed. (D 216)
27. 1926, Sep 18 Miami, FL.
Storm tide, but probably no hurricane wave. 100+ killed. (D 216)
28. 1928, Sep 16-17 Palm Beach, Lake Okeechobee.
About 2,000 killed, mostly from drowning around lake. (D 216)
29. 1932, Nov 9 Santa Cruz Del Sur, Cuba.
Rise of the Sea. Sea carried everything with it. Observer drowned and all records
and instrumentation lost. Of 4,000 people, about 2,500 lives lost. (D 216)(T 30)
30. 1935, Sep 2 Florida Keys.
400 killed, majority by drowning. Wall of water. High wave. Railroad track 30'
above viaduct washed away. (D 216)(T 41)
31. 1935, Sep 28-29 Bimini, Bahamas.
15' wave, but island sparsely populated and deaths few. (D 216)
32. 1938, Sep 21 New England.
600 killed. (D 217)
33. 1954, Aug 31 “Carol”. Long Island and New England.
60 killed. (D 217)
34. 1954, Oct 15 “Hazel”. SC to Canada.
149 killed, many by drowning around Toronto, Canada. (D 217)
35. 1955, Aug 18-19 “Diane”. New England states.
200 killed, mostly by drowning in flash floods. (D217)
36. 1957, Jun 26 “Audrey”. LA.
Nearly 500 dead or missing resulting from hurricane surge. (D 217)
From David Ludlam, noted NJ weather historian, a few others events.
37. 1778, Oct LA.
The sea rose as it had never been seen to do before. LA delta towns destroyed.
38. 1804 Great Gale. (L 54)
39. 1837, Aug 4-5 Long Island, Bahamas.
An unusual and destructive rise of the sea. (L125)
Newest additions, discussions on Mt Holly web site.
40. 1821, Sep 3 Delmarva peninsula.
41. 1909, Sep 22 LA.
42. 1938, Sep 21. NJ.
43. 1944, Sep 14. NJ.
44. 1969, Aug 18, “Camille”, LA.
45. 1982, Nov 23, “Iwa”, HI.
Dunn seems to have included the named storms because the naming of storms was new, and they
did caused great destruction and death. The Lake Okeechobee disaster can be eliminated since the
sea is not involved. However, these storms should be checked against reports received at their
landfall. Should some of the events be dropped from the list when investigated, possible newer
discoveries should be added, giving to date around 40 reports spanning about 350 years, or about 1
wave event every 9 years, worldwide, a rare event. The Bay of Bengal and western Atlantic basins
seem to be the most “active” regions, whether in actuality or because of better record keeping. The
Pacific basin is primarily just island dotted. Interestingly, Japan is not represented on the event list.
Dunn mentions that the Bay of Bengal has been calm since the last event in 1885, “whether due
to protective measures of some sort or for some other reason is not known.” However, he missed the
1942 cyclone. This began a series ending (?) in 1999 that cost the lives of over ½ million people,
according to a listing presented on the Factmonster web site. Tidal waves are mentioned as occurring
with some, and such high death totals with the others suggest tidal waves occurred with all. The
Factmonster list follows:
46. 1906 Sep 18 Hong Kong, China.
Typhoon with tsunami killed an estimated 10,000.
47. 1942 Oct 16 Bengal, India.
About 40,000 lives lost.
48. 1960 Oct 10 East Pakistan.
Cyclone and tidal wave killed about 6,000.
49. 1963 May 28-29 East Pakistan.
Cyclone killed about 22,000 along coast.
50. 1965 May 11-12 East Pakistan.
51. Jun 1-2 East Pakistan.
Cyclones killed about 47,000.
52. 1970 Nov 12-13 East Pakistan.
Cyclone and tidal waves killed 200,000 and another 100,000 were
53. 1971 Sep 29 Orissa state, India.
Cyclone and tidal wave.
54. 1977 Nov 19 Andhra Pradesh, India.
Cyclone and tidal wave claimed lives of 20,000.
55. 1991 Apr 30 Southeast Bangladesh.
Cyclone killed over 131,000 and left as many as 9 million homeless.
Thousands of survivors died from hunger and water-borne disease.
56. 1999 Oct 29 Orissa state, India.
Supercyclone swept in from Bay of Bengal, killing at least 9,573 and
leaving over 10 million homeless.
Dunn specifically states that “It is noteworthy that in 3 of the most disastrous hurricanes in the
history of the United States, from the standpoint of loss of life, a hurricane wave is clearly and
definitely mentioned.” These 3 events are Aug 27, 1893, SC; Oct 1, 1893, LA/MS; and Sep 8, 1900,
TX, and with the 1935 FL storm bearing some resemblance in savagery.
As strong earthquakes are the best candidates for possible tsunami formation, damaging hurricanes
are the best candidates to examine for accompanying tsunami-like waves. Investigating the 1889
Mudhen Hurricane showed that at least two “tidal waves” caused damage along the Mid Atlantic
coast. Investigating the 1932 Santa Cruz Del Sur, Cuba, rise of the sea, showed that making an
assumption that the wave was a storm surge that came in with a land-falling hurricane should never
September 8-12, 1889
The Mudhen Hurricane
“The great ocean pier was badly shaken and damaged; the waves dashed in mountains
to the very top of the frame work, 65 feet above the low water mark.”
This quote from the Jersey Journal was taken from Great Storms of the Jersey Shore and describes
a wave at Asbury Park, NJ, that occurred during the hurricane, and possibly the height of a tidal
wave which swept up the Mid Atlantic coast might have reached. (1) This hurricane was the worst
Jersey shore and Long Island hurricane since the great 1821 hurricane, and yet it remained at sea and
never got north of a Mason-Dixon oceanic extended line. It became a hurricane east of Puerto Rico,
attained a max CAT 2 strength north of the island, and retained that strength as it was moving toward
the NW well off the NC coast. The storm made a counter-clockwise loop, weakening then
dissipating east of Norfolk, VA. Why was this particular hurricane equated to a hurricane of 3
generations previous? It was not a quick hit like 1821 when that storm rode up the present NJ Garden
State Parkway, but was a storm that lasted 5 days, about a 10-tide storm, and was accompanied by
2 noticed, and remarked as such, “tidal waves.” Information is taken from the New York Times, with
quotes occasionally used for emphasis.
The 1st tidal wave hit on Sunday afternoon the 8th when the NW moving hurricane was still well
SE of NC. “Thick weather had been prevailing out to sea for 3 or 4 days, the ragged edges of the
storm making occasional appearances in rain-threatening clouds over this (NYC) and neighboring
cities.” Still, about 3,000 people were enjoying themselves at Rockaway Beach that Sunday
afternoon. The sea that had been rolling high began to increase, rolling in huge billows shoreward,
breaking in thundering roars on the beach. About 430 pm the tidal wave hit, rolling in 70' beyond
the previous high water mark. It washed over about 2,000 of the people who were sitting, walking
or standing on the strand, watching the sea at what they thought was a safe distance.
“It came unperceived by the great majority, and although there was a general scramble to get
beyond its reach, but few were successful in wholly escaping its grasp. The great majority of the
crowd suffered a thorough drenching. Many were tumbled over in the rush of waters, and several
women and children were caught by the undertow and carried back toward the surf line.” Nobody
was killed, but the tidal wave caused considerable damage. All the booths, oyster boats, stands and
small buildings between the hotels and the high water mark were destroyed or washed away. At Far
Rockaway the narrow strip of beach was nearly half washed away. The “oldest inhabitant” could not
recall such havoc caused by a single tidal wave.
Other places along the beach in both directions reported high seas and unusual tides. “At Coney
Island large sections of the ragged brush work that has disfigured the shore all season were torn from
their moorings and washed high upon the shore. The outer of the 3 pavilions at the end of the
concourse was completely undermined, and the water formed in large ponds across the roadway.
Huge sections of the ruined asphaltum roadway were broken off and dashed back over the road.” The
old Brighton Beach Pavilion was threatened by the boiling water. A channel was cut across the bar
to Coney Island Creek. Old maps showed there used to be an inlet to Sheepshead Bay, and it was
thought it might return.
Two days after the 1st tidal wave hit, Sergeant Dunn of the Signal Service officially designated the
storm as a cyclone. The storm extended from Cape Hatteras to Nova Scotia. It only extended inland
about 100 miles, and was more furious extending 400 miles out in the ocean, where the storm was
centered. Stories from along the coast come from many points and stamp it as one of probable
historical proportions, a NYT prediction made with the 2nd half of the storm yet to come. The 2
highest tides occurred Monday night and Tuesday morning, with Tuesday’s high tide the higher of
the 2. The 2nd tidal wave occurred Tuesday morning the 10th.
The tidal wave moved into Coney Island a few minutes after 6 am. Although probably occurring
on a wide front, as following examples will show, only the damage in the vicinity of Coney Island
is described. Where at 6 am there was order, at 630 am all was chaos. An estimated height of the
wave is not given, but perhaps the height of the Asbury Park wave might apply. It must have been
huge to stand out from the now monstrous waves that had been building since the 1st tidal wave had
hit. Unlike the other waves, but like the 1st tidal wave, it went well inland, more than twice as far as
the 1st. It was the highest wave that had been known at Coney Island for many years, and was
mentioned that it “swept up the coast.”
It flooded the beaches from the west end to the Oriental Hotel and did a great amount of damage.
Being early morning, there were not many eye witnesses of the wave itself; but more were ear
witnesses, aroused and alarmed, hearing the destruction occurring as the wave moved inland.
Residents of the Hotel Brighton heard the destruction of the old bath house between the hotel and
the sea, with only the pilings remaining. The hotel was isolated by ponds and lakes around the
building, access to it difficult except by the elevated railroad. The tile walk in front was ruined. The
turf between the music pavilion and the sea was destroyed, as was the steps to the Seidl Society
children’s pavilion and a small pavilion that had scales where one might test his weight for a nickle,
leaving only the brick foundation. East of the hotel was now a lake which extended to the Brooklyn
& Brighton Beach Railway track and back a considerable distance. Hundreds of tons of sand were
deposited on lawns and roadways, and much debris from broken piers and ruined buildings were
floated in and left on the beach.
The tidal wave submerged the Brighton race track, possibly destroying it. Water rose to 3' in some
of the stables, and the horses were removed, in some cases with difficulty, having to nearly swim to
safety. Most of the 200-300 horses had to be removed to Sheepshead Bay. Between Brighton and
Manhattan Beaches, the scene was desolate beyond description. The little marine railroad was
wrecked. The marine pier, or, the superstructure, was lifted off the piles, floated in, and deposited
on the new road. The rails were twisted and covered with sand and debris. On one track, one rail was
left 2' higher than the other. Manhattan Beach was ravaged.
The beach was protected by an embankment resting against piles, and it held. However, over a
space of 50-60' square in front of the steps leading from the eastern section of the hotel toward the
ocean, the lawn and tile walks sunk 2' or more, the sand it was resting on washing out from water
running under the hotel. The beach bath house was greatly damaged, and the pavilion that people
could watch the ocean and bathers was moved on its pile foundation. The sign reading “Way to the
ladies’ bath houses” is still there, but the “way” was taken away. The low grounds around the picnic
pavilion, located 150' from the beach bath house, was completely submerged.
This report of low-lying land being submerged 150' inland shows that the tidal wave probably went
inland even further, leaving this flooding as the wave retreated back to the ocean. It was reported that
this wave “swept up the coast.” Other reports point strongly that this wave stuck the coast from DE
to NY. A Long Branch, NJ, report tells of the near drowning of Samuel Holmes, bathing master at
the West End bathing grounds since 1868, when he was trying to save bathing suits belonging to the
hotel. He had just entered one of the bath houses where the suits were kept, when a great wave came
and broke under the platform where the bathing booths stood. The platform gave way, carrying with
it the bathing house and master out to sea and out of sight in the wave recession. Another wave took
him back toward shore, where he was rescued.
Another report of a monster wave was received from Longport, NJ. This wave swept along the
coast from Great Egg Harbor bay up to South Atlantic City, doing great damage to property, and
inundating Rum Point and Brigantine. The exact time of this event was not given, but the description
fits the Tuesday morning events to the north, and the following reports to the south.
Delaware Breakwater, capable of affording safe anchorage to about 40 vessels, was crowded with
about 100. Many were wrecked by the tremendous seas, the first vessel coming ashore at 9 am
Tuesday morning, with others following on Tuesday and Wednesday. Outside the Breakwater a big
coal barge floundered, with her crew of 6 or 8 being lost. A great loss occurred around the
Brandywine Shoals, 18 miles up the Delaware Bay. The schooner E & L Byrne foundered and went
to pieces. The mate and 2 seamen caught a drifting spar, on which they floated until morning. One
sailor died from exhaustion, with the others picked up by a passing tug and conveyed to Lewes, DE.
The survivors reported that an immense, tremendous wave swamped the Byrne as well as 3 other
schooners and 4 heavily laden barges, with the loss of 40 or 50 men. This might be the highest death
toll from any storm, and possibly one of the highest wave heights ever to have occurred, on the
This witnessed immense, monstrous wave appears to be part of a tidal wave that moved into the
entire Mid Atlantic coast, causing great damage and killing upwards of 50 people, on what was
already a very stormy Tuesday morning. This was the 2nd of 2 tidal waves to occur with this
hurricane, the 1st occurring 2 days earlier, that wave the beginning and precursor of what was to
come for almost an entire week. The Great Tides were Monday night and Tuesday morning, but
successive tides remained high with NE winds keeping the ocean in. People along the NJ coast were
stranded from Monday to Friday, with provisions running out, and ended up killing hundreds of
mudhen birds for food, thus the hurricane eventually taking on the nickname Mudhen Hurricane.
With 2 tidal waves occurring in association with this well offshore storm, the Mudhen Hurricane can
be considered a tsunamic hurricane. If it can be proven that the tidal waves, especially the 2nd , were
true tsunami, the 2nd tsunami would be the deadliest to hit the east coast of North America, with a
death toll exceeding the 1929 Newfoundland tsunami.
(1) Great Storms of the Jersey Shore: Savadove, Larry and Margaret Thomas Buchholz, p 30.
Santa Cruz, Cuba, Hurricane, Nov 9, 1932.
This hurricane is listed by Dunn/Miller and Tannehill, and the description of the complete
destruction of Santa Cruz Del Sur illustrates what a major hurricane is capable of doing. (We grieve
at the loss of the dedicated and professional weather observer.) The town was on the right side of the
CAT 4 storm when it made landfall on the southern coast of Cuba about 15Z (10 am EST) on the
9th, emerging off the northern coast about 00Z (7 pm EST). It was a daylight storm, dawn having
risen before landfall. By dawn on the 10th, the hurricane was about to move NE through the central
Bahamas. Dawn is important when reading eyewitness accounts of when the 2,500 people were
The survivors “told how some of the town escaped the tidal wave, but the others were trapped.
They lived through a 100 mph wind, but little did they dream that behind it was a 20' wall of water.
Suddenly out of the blackness before dawn the crash of fishing boats in the harbor - 70 of them were
destroyed - notified the town it was doomed. There was time for little besides mad dashing for a
safety that could not be found anywhere. Jose’ Diaz, the Santa Cruz station agent, said hundreds
crowded about 5 empty boxcars on a railway siding. Diaz took refuge on the station and watched the
terror-stricken group below clamber inside the cars. Then the main force of the water hit the big
hulks broadside, toppling 4 and drowning all the occupants. The other floated into the swirling water
and was carried nearly a mile to dry land.”
Everything was taken away by the wave, including 3-story houses and business buildings snapped
like matches. Some bodies were found hanging in trees, where the receding waters left them. Others
were washed ashore many miles from Santa Cruz. (1) It appears that this hurricane belongs to an
elite and growing list of those where the “tidal wave” is distinctly different than that of its storm
surge, but is an event caused by the hurricane, the “disaster within a disaster.” Another event with
this storm occurred 5 days earlier than the Cuban disaster. After forming in the Leeward Islands and
moving SW, the storm slowed down on Nov 2nd when changing course toward the W, and took 3
days to move just to the N of Venezuela. At its closest approach to the Venezuelan coast on the 3rd,
the hurricane strengthened to a CAT 2. On the 4th a Venezuelan earthquake set off a tsunami. (2)
Here is a hurricane that, when in the neighborhood, an earthquake produced tsunami slammed into
Venezuela. A tidal wave disaster occurred in Cuba when the storm was almost 12 hours away from
that island, as shown by the witnesses’ reference to the event occurring before dawn. Additionally,
when the now CAT 4 hurricane passed near the Cayman Islands, a “storm surge” of 32' killed 109
people, with 60 houses entirely destroyed or seriously damaged. (3) Was this the normally
understood storm surge, or a single wave. The site did not say. However, Cuban specialists from the
Physical Planning Institute and the Meteorology Institute have a name for these Raz de Maree’ waves
that accompany tropical hurricanes and cause major disasters. These institutes call them tsunami.
(2) Tsunami Data Base, reference, Singer ‘83, detailed information not given)
(3) Hurricanecity web site.
(4) Pages, Raisa, Forecasts for a Searing Century, Granma International staff writer, Oct 9, 2001.
C. TSUNAMIC NOR’EASTERS?
Coastal Storm of March 6 - 8, 1962
Severe coastal storms have always battered the coastline of DE, causing damage to man-made
structures, as well as to the beaches themselves. At Rehoboth, 15' waves broke as far inland as Surf
Ave during a Sep 18-19, 1936, storm; 20' waves broke on the beaches during an Oct 1, 1943, storm;
waves were 15-20' high on Aug 15, 1953; and hurricane Carol produced 15-20' waves as she passed
by on Sep 1, 1954. The Mar ‘62 great coastal storm produced similar waves for the most part which
hammered the beaches during the 5-high tide life of the storm. It also produced an onslaught of
damaging 30-40' witnessed waves along the DE coast, similar to the 40-50' waves that came in along
the Jersey shore during the 1938 and 1944 hurricanes. A study of this storm was conducted by the
Department of Geography for the DE Coastal Management Program. Part of the study included
interviews with residents. No time of occurrence was mentioned in the reports for the gigantic waves
witnessed at Bethany Beach, South Bethany Beach and Fenwick Island. At Rehoboth, the 8th of
March is specifically mentioned. (1)
At Bethany Beach, residents reported that massive waves broke along the town’s entire coast.
“There was no gradual breaking of the dune line. Instead, respondents recalled that the ocean had
risen in 2 huge waves (estimated at 30') which crashed onto the beachfront properties. When the
waters cleared, the entire dune line had been wiped out, with the exception of one small area, and
approximately 35 homes had been destroyed. It was estimated that water extended as much as 4
miles inland in the area north of Rt 26, as well as in the area directly south of it.”
In South Bethany Beach, the primary source of flood water was the ocean. A witness reported
waves as high as 30' breaking on Rt 14, with 32 houses destroyed. The entire dune area that fronted
the ocean was destroyed. A survey respondent in the canal section of South Bethany reported that
sand from the beach front was carried inland to this section. Flood waters in the canal section were
1-2' deep, and came from the ocean and not the canal. At the beach, sand dunes as high as 14' were
Waves at Rehoboth were reported to be 40' high and eroded 30' of the beach.
Dune breaching began at Fenwick Island from waves as high as 40'. In one section, structural
damage to homes was reported, with one resident reporting $7,500 in damage when a 40' wave broke
on his house. In another section, 4 homes were totally destroyed, one split in half when a 35' wave
broke on it. One respondent experienced $20,000 in damages when his home was totally destroyed,
with ocean water carrying the house inland toward the bay. Another house washed inland causing
damage to the wing of a hotel behind it. Homes with structural damage extended quite far inland,
with a clear pattern of severe damage along the ocean front, which took the brunt of the waves.
Great waves accompany hurricanes and intense coastal storms, but usually remain offshore,
causing trouble only in the shipping lanes, as shown in a following section. Witnesses of this
Nor’easter reported a rise of the sea along the DE beaches with 30-40' waves coming ashore,
destroying dozens of homes and leveling tall dunes. March 8th was given as the day of occurrence
at Rehoboth. It is likely that these giant wave attacks occurred on the same day and was one event
for all locations. It is apparent that this storm contained an event within an event, which might have
gone unreported but for the extensive study of the storm with an aggressive hunt for eyewitness
reports. The question remains, were these gigantic waves just a matter of storm waves that usually
remain in open waters suddenly coming ashore, or did 2 days of wave action eventually set off an
underwater slide, causing a local tsunami. For mitigation purposes, the end result is knowing that
intense coastal storms are capable of producing sudden waves of such height as to destroy homes and
reshape the coast in almost the blink of an eye.
(1) Delaware Coastal Storm Damage 1923-1974. A Chronicle of Coastal Storms Including the
Perceptions of Coastal Inhabitants Regarding Their Reactions to the Threat of Damaging Coastal
Storms With Recommendations to Reduce the Impact of Future Storms on Coastal Residents and
Technical Report No 4, Delaware Coastal Management Program, Apr, 1977. Original Manuscript
Prepared By Department of Geography, University of DE, Newark, DE, Under Contract to Office
of Management, Budget and Planning (formerly State Planning Office), Dover, DE.
Copy of this report provided by Mt Holly forecaster Jim Poirier, Winter Storm Focal Point.
D. A PRELIMINARY INVESTIGATION OF TWO POSSIBLE JERSEY SHORE
Teletsunami are ocean crossing waves, waves that travel a long distance from its source region,
and are very rare, even in the Pacific Ocean. In the Atlantic basin, the most famous in recorded
history occurred as a result of the Nov 1, 1755, Lisbon earthquake. Large teletsunami ranged from
Cape Bonavista, Newfoundland, and down through the Caribbean islands. The quake was a Great
Quake, one with a magnitude of 8.0 or greater. A 1918 7.5 quake off the NW coast of Puerto Rico
produced teletsunami recorded on the Atlantic City tidal gage, as did a 1946 8.1 quake with a 7.9
aftershock off the NE coast of the Dominican Republic. These events were especially important not
for the lack of large, devastating tsunami along the Jersey shore, but as an opportunity to establish
travel times from quake sources.
The travel times in 1946 were 4.8 and 4.7 hours. The travel time from the far eastern Atlantic
quake regions to the Jersey shore would be longer, probably 6 hours or more, depending on the
magnitude and nature of the quake. Many large earthquakes have occurred in the Caribbean and the
waters west of Europe in the past. Have any of them created teletsunami, with the waves perhaps not
recognized for what they were? A preliminary investigation shows that this may indeed be the case.
The Azorean Great Quake of May 26, 1975
On Monday, May 26, 1975, a powerful earthquake with magnitude around 8.0 occurred about 10
AM in the Atlantic ocean between Portugal and the Azores. Central Portugal and western Spain
shook, but no significant damage or injuries were reported on the mainland. Slight damage was
reported on the Madeira Islands about 500 miles W of Morocco. The epicenter was about 500 miles
SW of Lisbon and about 200 miles NW of the Madeiras. If teletsunami was now on its way to the
US east coast, anything odd and of interest along our shores should occur in a window of time, with
the beginning of the window perhaps around 4 pm. Using the Asbury Park Press newspaper revealed
the possibility that a teletsunami event did occur.
Two girls walking along Brick Beach, Brick Township, Ocean Co, NJ, discovered the body of a
man floating in the surf near Sunset Lane, about 100 yards S of Mantoloking on the ocean side. The
first patrolmen arrived at the scene at 510 pm. The man was eventually identified as Francis J
Provost, 25, a Brick man known to be a good swimmer. He was last seen alive at the municipal
ocean bathing beach at 3 pm by friends who were leaving the beach. Evidently there were no
witnesses to what actually happened, but the cause of death was drowning. There was another
drowning to come.
Ames J Lebeau, 19, of Woodcliff Lake, Bergen Co, NJ, was playing frisbee with two companions
on the Beach Haven Crest beach, Long Beach Township, Ocean Co, NJ, Monday evening. At 720
pm, he and companion Roger Knappie went into the surf to retrieve the frisbee, then Lebeau was
seen ducking a wave and disappeared. He was not found that day. A third event, thankfully not as
tragic, occurred the next day.
A 50' whale washed up onto the beach at Brigantine, near Atlantic City. Smithsonian Institute
scientists dissected the 30-ton whale on the 29th St beach and said it was apparently killed after being
rammed by a ship. Evidently nothing was discovered as a specific cause of death. Had the whale
been dead for days or weeks before it washed up? The whale was not mentioned as being in a
deteriorated condition. Was the whale in the wrong place at the wrong time, an underwater casualty
of teletsunami? Alan Ruffman, the Canadian tsunami expert previously mentioned in the 1929
Newfoundland tsunami section, said to look for dead animals as a clue to tsunami.
This preliminary investigation of a Great Quake in the far eastern Atlantic producing teletsunami
reaching the Mid Atlantic shows the possibility that this is indeed what happened, with fatal results.
Should this be confirmed with more detailed investigation, Mr Provost and Mr Lebeau would take
their place in history as the first known US teletsunami fatalities, unless a possible Mid Atlantic
teletsunami, with fatalities, discussed in the next section, can also eventually be confirmed.
Asbury Park Press, Tuesday, May 27, 1975, Wednesday, May 28, 1975.
Philadelphia Inquirer, Wednesday, May 28, 1975.
The August 27, 1883, Explosion of the Indonesian Volcano Krakatoa
Another result, similar in kind (to the atmospheric waves which traveled around the world
a multitude of times), was the extraordinary dissemination of the great ocean wave, which
in a like matter seems to have encircled the earth, since high waves, without evident cause,
appeared not only in the Pacific, but at many places on the Atlantic coast within a few days
after the event. They were observed alike in England and at New York. The writer happened
to be in Atlantic City, on the New Jersey coast, at this time. It was a period of calm, the
winds being at rest, but, unheralded, there came in an ocean wave of such height as to sweep
away the ocean-front boardwalk and do much other damage. He ascribed this strange wave
at the time to the Krakatoa explosion, and is of the same opinion still. (1)
The major explosion of Krakatoa at 1002 am Monday morning sent tsunami radiating outward in all
directions. All towns and villages along the Sundra Strait region of Indonesia were destroyed by very
large tsunami, killing about 36,500 people. Tsunami moved into the entire Australian coastline and
India, with 4-6' waves reported, Ceylon reported tsunami, as did the Arabian peninsula, Mauritius,
New Zealand, Pakistan, the Seychelles, South Africa, HI, CA, Panama, South America, and the
Virgin Islands, where the water receded from shore 3 times at St Thomas. Atmospheric tsunami were
reported in AK, CA and HI. (2) Since tsunami was reported in the Virgin Islands, along with reports
of waves and rises of the water in the English channel, did tsunami move into the Atlantic coast of
the USA? The answer seems to be yes!
A Krakatoa Mid Atlantic teletsunami would have to strike in a window of time. Determining a
travel time and speed of the tsunami across a multi-ocean regime with precision might seem
extremely difficult. However, newspaper articles reveal that the 1st waves arrived at Atlantic City at
4 pm the next day, 30 hours after the great explosion. The speed of the tsunami would depend on the
exact travel path to Atlantic City from Krakatoa. A distance of 8-10,000 miles would give a speed
of about 265 to 335 mph, consistent with tsunami travel speed. The Arabian peninsula report falls
into this range with tsunami moving in 12 hours after, for a speed of about 315 mph. What did
happen along the Jersey shore beginning at 4 pm on the 28th?
TUESDAY, THE 28TH OF AUGUST, 1883
The tide excelled any tidal display for many years at this particular season, according to the “oldest
inhabitant.” “The white crested waves rushed in with irresistible force shore-wards not only carried
away many of the connecting links of the board walk, which links are placed at the ocean foot of the
various Avenues running east and west, but the outer and principal portion of the ocean pier at the
foot of Georgia Ave, and near the West Jersey Railroad Co. Excursion House was completely
destroyed by the overpowering waves.” “At 5 pm the water of the extraordinary tide had passed
clear under the board walk and encroached almost up to the hotels and cottages nearest the beach,
which are several hundred feet from the same. The whole space of ground south of the West Jersey
Excursion House, including the site of the Excursion House that was destroyed by the flood about
4 years ago, is now under water, and it presents the scene of a veritable ‘salt lake’.” The main section
of the board walk remained intact and filled with spectators of the exciting scene of the wild waves.
WEDNESDAY, THE 29TH OF AUGUST, 1883
Long before high water at 6 pm, the board walk began to wash away, and by high water the beach
was a mass of debris. By 5 pm every available express and baggage wagon was at the nearest
approach of the beach front loading up to save furniture and household goods. At 543 pm the tide
had risen to a height greater than that at any previous time for 10 to 15 years. The force of the surf
was, however, a more noticeable feature than the height of the tide at high-water mark. The
sea as far as the eye could penetrate the murky cloud bank was a mass of seething foam,
broken by waves which fell on the frame structures along the beach with a deafening roar and
the force of grinding millstones. At the concussion of the wave some photographer’s booth, a bath
house, restaurant or shell stores would suddenly rise from its underpinning and sail out to sea. Then
a 2nd breaker would pour in like a cataract of foam, and when the blinding spray cleared away, the
relics of the building would be seen in countless fragments, beaten here and there in angry eddies
and ground to powder on the hard sand. The force of the surf was astonishing, and was greater
than ever before known on the island. A sea 6' thick swept completely over the main dancing
pavilion of the Ocean pier and burst into streamers of spray to a height of 50'. The water at this time
reached within 20' of Pacific Ave, and practically cut off egress to the beach front. At 615 pm the
whole of the West Jersey pier beyond low-water mark sank suddenly into the foaming surges and
disappeared from view. At that hour the foot of Kentucky Ave, which leads out to the entrance of
the ocean pier, was piled 15' high with debris.
The Editor of the NYT in the Friday issue stated that “There is no cause assignable in local or lunar
conditions for the extraordinary high tides which have delayed travel within the past day or two upon
the coast of New Jersey, and the ‘earthquake waves’ which have just appeared on the coast of
California are assigned without hesitation to the Javanese earthquake.”
Atlantic City Damage Reports
Electric light and telephone poles were carried away from Illinois Ave to the lighthouse, a distance
of very nearly a mile. The Camden & Atlantic Railroad extension to South Atlantic City, a distance
of 6 miles, was washed away. 250 sections of the boardwalk were completely destroyed, and the
ocean front from the foot of the avenue on which Brighton stands as far up as the improvements on
the beach was in ruins. The narrow-gauge railroad for 2 miles out of town was under water. On
Thursday the 30th, hammers and saws were busily used along what was Atlantic City’s beach
promenade, and shopkeepers were busy building approaches to their stores and clearing away debris.
Estimates were made as rough guesses of the extent of their proprietors and attaches’ of the
following places, which were either partially or wholly destroyed. These losses are all entirely
exclusive of pavilions and the boardwalk in front and the contents of the buildings, those losses not
less than $75.000.
Haddon House baths......................................................................$150
Colonade, slight, not over..............................................................$50
Bell’s photograph gallery...............................................................$300
Lyons Brothers’ baths....................................................................$1,800
Young’s shooting gallery...............................................................$100
Chandler & Sheet’s photograph gallery-total wreck......................$350
Giorgetti Guiseppe fruit stand........................................................$100
Shooting gallery, ice, glass stand, and small restaurant
adjoining Chandler’s place.........................................................$500
Mrs Byrne’s West Philadelphia baths............................................$300
All along the beach below the pier there were slight injuries done, but with the exception of the West
Jersey excursion pier nothing serious.
Damage Elsewhere Along The Shores
The beach at Long Branch was badly washed away in some places. The boat “Plymouth Rock” was
unable to run to the Ocean Pier on the 29th and 30th. The landing pier was taken up for fear it would
be torn loose by the strong waves. The tide began running over the track of the New Jersey Southern
Railroad opposite the Highlands of Navesink. The washout carried away a bulkhead put in by the
railroad last Spring that cost $50,000, and the track is undermined in spots for miles between
Highland Station and Bellevue, near Seabright. Where the road bed has not been torn away, the sand
from the beach piled upon the track to a height of 3-4'. The carcases of 20 cattle, tossed overboard
from a passing vessel by the waves, were pitched upon the beach between Seabright and Bellevue.
The ocean ran over into the Schrewsbury River, forming a temporary inlet. A bad washout was
reported on the Philadelphia & Long Branch Division of the Pennsylvania Railroad near the new
summer resort of Berkley, forcing Philadelphia to Long Branch trains to divert to the New Jersey
Southern Road between Whiting and Farmingdale.
The boats of the Iron Steamboat Company were unable to make any landings at the Iron Pier,
Coney Island, on account of the high sea, and were obliged to land their passengers at Norton’s
Point. At 530 pm on the 29th the water under the wooden pier immediately in front of the Ocean
Hotel, on the Concourse at Coney Island, was 6-8' below the pier floor. It is usually 15-20'.
THURSDAY, AUGUST 30, 1883.
The ocean appears to have remained in a disturbed state into Thursday morning and then gave the
appearance of dying down. However, strong currents apparently remained, and claimed the lives of
two sisters, Eleanor and Mary Vail, 18 and 20 respectively, daughters of Lewis D Vail, a well-known
lawyer of Germantown, PA. One sister entered the water at Key East, a new summer resort between
Asbury Park and Ocean Beach, and ventured beyond her depth, with the currents gradually sweeping
her from the shore. The other went to her rescue, but both became exhausted and sank. They were
not found that day. If these drownings were a result of Krakatoa teletsunami, the 2 sisters would take
their place in history as the first known USA teletsunami fatalities. Could any local weather have
been the cause of the ocean turbulence, such as an extended period of easterly winds, or a hurricane?
Forecasts for the region and other sections of the country were issued at 1 am, to make the NYT
edition. New York City temperatures every 3 hours for the previous day beginning at 3 am were
printed, with the readings taken at Hudnut’s Pharmacy, 218 Broadway. The forecast starting the
week beginning Monday the 27th called for fair weather, N’ly winds, a rising barometer and
stationary or lower temperatures. Resorts reported beautiful weather, with a vigorous wind and
waves rolling high on the beach at Coney Island. Krakatoa had exploded, and the waves were
running extremely high on the local beaches there, and radiating outward on their journey around
the world. The forecast for Tuesday was for fair weather, a rising then falling barometer, stationary
or rising temperatures, with winds shifting to S’ly. The forecast for Wednesday was for partly cloudy
skies, local rains, an E’ly wind shifting to NW, with stationary or lower temperatures. It appears that
an atmospheric cold front moved through the region from the NW.
The NYT reported The Weather For The Week on Sundays, an abstract of the Central Park
Meteorological Observatory ending at 1 pm Saturday. The highest barometer was 30.144 inches at
9 am Aug 27th, with the minimum reading 29.748 inches at 8 pm on the 29th. NYC rainfall for the
week was 0.01 inches from 710 am to 8 am on the 29th. An article from Newport, RI, mentioned
morning rain and leaden-colored skies in the afternoon sent forth a disagreeable NW wind,
supporting a cold frontal passage through the region on the 29th. Evidently NE winds only prevailed
for a 24 hour period, not long enough a period to support the events that occurred along the shores
of NJ and Long Island, and in agreement with the NYT Editor that local conditions were not the
cause. An article from Boston, MA, showed that the ocean was tumultuous not just in the Mid
New England Ship In Distress
(All locations are in Boston harbor, along the South Shore)
Newport also mentioned that the sea ran very high, and lashed the shores with great fury, and that
the Block Island and Narragansett Pier steamers were unable to leave their wharves, and no vessels
left their anchorages. Newport is located at the mouth of Narragansett Bay. An article from Boston
reported that NE winds were occurring in Boston the morning of the 29th when the steamer “John
Romer” left port for her regular trip to Pemberton and Nantasket, carrying about 700 passengers.
When off Long Island (Lighthouse) she “began to roll heavily on a rough sea, which rapidly
increased as the steamer proceeded on her course. Just before crossing the sand bar between Nix’s
Mate and Long Island, a tremendous sea struck her on the port side and directly under the wheel,
tearing away with a crash the afterport of the port paddle-box and the entire stateroom adjoining. A
panic ensued among the passengers and a rush was made for life-preservers, while others sought the
“The officers of the Romer headed her for Gallop’s Island, in the meantime blowing a signal of
distress, which was answered by the steamer ‘Rose Standish,’ on her way from Strawberry Hill and
Pemberton. After receiving about 200 passengers, the Standish proceeded for Pemberton, where they
landed safely, while the Romer, being relieved of a part of her load, continued her course to
Nantasket. The accident is said to have been the result of the steamer listing to the port side and
shutting in a heavy sea, which had no chance of escaping except by breaking through the timbers.”
With NE winds lasting for about a day, as supported by numerous articles, it is unlikely that all of
the occurrences along the shores and at sea could be caused by seas reacting to a wind direction,
unless the seas were in conjunction with NE winds of a passing hurricane. There was one.
There were only 4 tropical systems in 1883, with 2 of them roaming the Atlantic at the same time.
Both had similar paths, moving clockwise around the Bermuda high, recurving at a point well east
of NC/south of Cape Cod point, then passing to the south of Newfoundland. The first, a CAT 1,
recurved late on the 22nd. When it roared through the Grand Banks, it decimated the fishing fleet,
killing between 80 and 100 fishermen. The second, a CAT 3, recurved late on the 28th, moving south
of Nova Scotia, then accelerating as it passed close to the SE tip of Newfoundland. Ordinarily,
hurricanes recurving that far away from land would not be considered troublesome to the East Coast,
although the Mudhen Hurricane, never getting much above the latitude of Norfolk, VA, was one
exception. However, that was also a 5-day storm. This hurricane disrupted the shipping lanes. The
sea tripped the “J W Russell” 60 miles SE of Halifax, killing 9 sailors, swamped the “Welcome”
near Prince Edward Island, killing 10, and impacted the “Fulsa” south of Nova Scotia, killing 1, all
during Wednesday night and with the ships near the storm. Could this storm also have heavily
impacted a land mass well to the west?
The NYT editor did not mention the hurricane as a possible cause of the unusual Jersey shore event,
and discounted any local effects. If this hurricane was responsible, could it have been responsible
for the triple ocean recession at St Thomas? The storm on the 28th was as far to the NW of the Virgin
Islands as it was to the S of Cape Cod, was in deep Atlantic waters, and had just attained CAT 1
status. In this particular case, it is highly unlikely this weak storm well away from the coast, caused
the destructive coastal events.
The resultant tsunami from the destruction of volcano Krakatoa was world-wide, with the Mid
Atlantic coast likely participating fully in the event, and with the possibility of 2 fatalities. Tsunami
began 30 hours after the explosion and continued for as long as 2 days. The highest tsunami wave
occurred on the afternoon of the 29th and caused much of the destruction in Atlantic City, including
that of the board walk. The NYT reported the wave as “a sea 6' thick,” and the eyewitness in Atlantic
City reported that “there came in an ocean wave of such height as to swept away the ocean-front
board walk and do much other damage.” Perhaps an analysis of the events at the Jersey shore and
surrounding areas could help understand the sub-oceanic events that might have occurred at
Krakatoa, since the largest wave here occurred about 50 hours after the actual explosion. In the
previous discussion of the threat of east coast tsunami from Atlantic basin volcanoes, the eastern
Atlantic volcanoes are considered the primary threat, with Caribbean volcanoes not to be trusted.
With the events along the Mid Atlantic from Krakatoa, any violent volcanic eruption of historic
proportions anywhere in the world should be considered a direct threat to the United States.
(1) The San Franciso Calamity By Earthquake And Fire: A Complete and Accurate Account of the
Fearful Disaster which Visited the Great City and the Pacific Coast, the Reign of Panic and
Lawlessness, the Plight of 300,000 Homeless People and the World-wide Rush to the Rescue. Told
By Eye Witnesses Including Graphic And Reliable Accounts Of All Great Earthquakes And
Volcanic Eruptions In The World’s History, And Scientific Explanations Of Their Causes. Edited
by Charles Morris, LL. D., Philadelphia, Chicago, etc., the J. C. Winston Co, about 1906, Chapter
27, The Terrible Eruption of Krakatoa.
(2) All reports from the Tsunami Data Base.
E. ATMOSPHERIC TSUNAMI
Definition: Tsunami-like waves generated by a rapidly moving atmospheric pressure front moving
over a shallow sea about the same speed as the waves, allowing them to couple.
The Maine Coastal Surge of January 4, 1994.
A severe Nor’easter hammered the eastern states from TN to ME with snow, ice, rain, high wind,
and an unusually strong atmospheric phenomena called a gravity wave (GW). Discussions on GWs
are usually highly technical. An introduction to them can be read on NWS Wakefield’s web site. A
good way to explain them might be to equate them to the development of a squall line aloft. As with
squall lines, some can become more intense than others. GWs can work their way to the surface and
become destructive as thunderstorm squall lines can be, and as this event was. The mid-atmospheric
generation of this particular wave occurred over the Carolinas. As it moved toward the NE, it
evolved and descended. RI reported known effects from the GW first, although high wind reports
in NJ and coastal NY might have been the first manifestation.
From Storm Data, “A strong low pressure system moving NE off the Mid Atlantic coast toward
Cape Cod caused snow and sleet, a period of high winds, and some unprecedented short-period
changes in barometric pressure, or ‘GW.’ At the NWS office in Providence, the pressure fell from
29.56 inches at 850 am to 29.25 inches 28 minutes later! A short period of high winds was observed
with a gust to 45 mph at Providence, and to more than 50 mph at Newport.” Storm Data also relays
unprecedented changes in pressure for MA; and for ME, wind gusts as high as 70 mph at Cape
Elizabeth and Monhegan Island were accompanied by extreme rapid pressure falls, a fall of 8
millibars in less than half an hour at Portland. Most interesting is the ME report of a coastal surge.
“A mysterious surge of seawater hit several harbors along the ME coast at about mid-tide, suddenly
raising water levels by 4-6'. Several fishing boats were damaged at their mooring. The surge traveled
up the Penobscot and Orland rivers, causing damage to a dam in Orland as ice and water overflowed
it.” (1) From the south shore of Vinalhaven Island, the most ocean-ward island in Penobscot Bay,
it is approximately 35 miles to the Orland dam.
A Monthly Weather Review article states that this rapid sea level oscillation (seiche) also hit
coastal harbors along Narragansett Bay. (2) With this basic information, it is apparent that, as the
GW approached the shallow near shore waters of New England, it coupled with the ocean and
created an oceanic front of tsunami-like waves that struck at least coastal RI and ME, and more than
likely in-between MA. Waves as high as 6' caused damage to at least moored boats. When reaching
the Penobscot River, the tsunami-like wave formed a river bore which did damage as far inland as
35 miles. This event associated with an intense winter storm is what would be a textbook example
of an atmospheric tsunami. Another example of the atmospheric coupling with the ocean occurred
Tropical Storm Induced Tsunami-like Wave Occurrences in Newfoundland
A study on two tsunami-like wave events was conducted by the Meteorological Service of Canada
and Dalhousie University. (3) The first event occurred on Oct 5, 1999, with the passage of tropical
storm Jose over the Grand Banks. About 3 hours later the 4-6' tsunami-like waves hit shore, in the
form of rises and falls of the water level. Some harbors reported a bore. The authors investigated the
possibility of either earthquake or underwater slide as a cause, but could find no proof of these.
The second event occurred on Sep 25, 2000. This event with almost identical results revolved
around tropical storm Helene, which, the authors state, supports the view that the pressure field of
the rapidly moving tropical systems coupled with the similar average shallow water wave speed for
the Grand Banks area they passed over, producing an atmospheric tsunami.
Damaging tsunami-like waves moved into the New England coast in 1994, associated with a
winter storm GW, and accompanied by heavy weather and winds gusting to near hurricane force.
Damaging tsunami-like waves moved into the Newfoundland coast, associated with offshore tropical
systems, and accompanied by clear skies and light winds. These events seem to fit perfectly the
definition of atmospheric tsunami.
(1) Storm Data and Unusual Weather Phenomena, Jan 1994, pp 23, 24, 35, 37, 46.
(2) Bosart, Lance F, W Edward Bracken and Anton Seimon, “A Study of Cyclone Mesoscale
Structure with Emphasis on a Long-Amplitude Inertia-Gravity Wave.” Monthly Weather Review,
American Meteorological Society, Jun 1998, Vol 126, No 6.
(3) Mercer, Doug, Jinyu Sheng, Richard Greatbatch and Josko Bobanovic, MS of C and DU,
Halifax, Nova Scotia. JGR Oceans, 10.1029/2001 JC 001140, 16 Oct 2002.
F. ROGUE WAVES AT SEA
When researching for tsunami, articles on other wave events occasionally appear, ranging from just
the unusual, to waves with damaging or deadly results. Mention of them might prove useful to those
scientists investigating this type of event, as well as presenting a possible connection to the currently
unknown original source of a tsunami.
1. The Steamship “Umbria” of the Cunard Line.
The Umbria left Liverpool Sat Mar 2, 1895, and had rough weather for 4 days. On Mar 6 Capt
Dutton was resting in his room and 2nd Officer Hoff was on the bridge, when, at 330 pm, two
immense waves hit. She drove through the 1st without accident; but, when her bow was in the trough
of the sea, the 2nd one broke over her with a shock that made her shiver from stem to stern. The wave
was fully 30' high and broke squarely over the starboard bow. The full force of the water struck the
Captain’s cabin, almost tore it bodily from the ship, and carried him about the cabin as it swept
numerous things from it out to sea.
The wave bent the Umbria’s stout iron stanchions and carried away two lifeboats, as well as
stoving in the Captain’s cabin and stripping it of the greater part of its furniture and his clothes. The
water poured down the stairways and into the saloon to the consternation of the passengers. Dutton
was able to get to the bridge, half clad as he was, and was “togged out” from the wardrobes of his
officers. Cunard said the damage was about $1,000. The Umbria had 106 saloon, 85 2nd cabin and
348 steerage passengers.
NYT, Tue Mar 12, 1895.
2. White Star Liner S/S “Teutonic.”
The steamer reported a calm trip across the Atlantic from Liverpool to NYC with the exception
of a few minutes last Sunday morning, when she was almost swamped by a huge wave, causing
considerable material damage to the vessel and injury to passengers. 1st Officer Bartlett was on the
bridge when the wave broke, the Captain being at breakfast. The sea was unusually placid for the
winter season and a look at the instruments indicated that the weather would get calmer. The sun was
shining its brightest and the mild WNW wind prevailing made the weather very pleasant. It was
about 9 am and the officer, as he walked the bridge, had not the slightest premonition of the
impending danger. The wave came over the bow from nobody seems to know where and broke in
all its fury, damaging the deck fittings and catching 2 unsuspecting men passengers, striking them
with volcanic fury, cutting off the foot of one and fracturing the jaw of the other.
As Bartlett tells the story, the Teutonic suddenly sank deep down into the water, and before she
could recover, the sea swept in directly from ahead. It swept over the crows nest, which is from 55'
to 60' above the water, and threw the 2 lookouts down onto the deck, cutting an ugly gash on one and
severely shaking up the other. The passengers were inclined to think that the wave was the result of
volcanic phenomenon, or of a tidal wave, although the Teutonic officers disagreed.
NYT, Fri Mar 1, 1901.
3. The Red Star Liner “Switzerland.”
The Red Star returned to Southampton, England, today, with her funnels damaged. She had been
struck by a tidal wave off Scilly. She was not badly damaged and can proceed to Philadelphia
Monday. The tidal wave carried away her bridge and all her funnel supports. The passengers were
greatly alarmed. Captain Rogers said it was a miracle that no person was swept away.
EDJ, Sat Feb 6, 1904.
Scilly is off the SW peninsula of England. There is written historical evidence in England for the
Lisbon tsunami event of 1755 reaching the SW corner of England (St Mounts Bay), and geological
evidence for tsunami sedimentation within shallow coastal lakes in the Scilly Isles.
TsuInfo Alert, Vol 5, No. 2, Apr 2003.
4. The Cunard Steamer “Campania.”
The Campania left Liverpool on Wed Oct 11, 1905. That afternoon she was running along at her
usual speed with a huge quartering sea, when the steamer lurched suddenly to port and scooped up
an enormous wave. The sea boarded about midships on the port side, completely swept the steerage
deck, and washed a large number of steerage passengers aft. The sea filled the space between the
decks and smashed out a door in the rail through which 5 passengers were swept away and lost, and
30 injured, some seriously. Several children being washed toward the open door were saved. The
steamer’s side was buried so deep that the passengers on the deck above saw the water rise up to
The steerage deck runs on both sides from a point just under the bridge aft to a short distance from
the stern. The deck above shelters it and a rail guards it. Between the rail and the upper deck a rope
netting fills the space to protect the passengers from washing overboard. In the rail, which is a solid
plated wall about 4' high, are several swinging doors or open scuppers, to allow the water to pass out
when any is shipped. These openings are crossed by iron bars or gratings. It was through these
openings that the passengers were forced by the terrible rush of waters when the deck was filled.
EDJ, Sat Oct 14, 1905.
5. The Atlas Lines “Virginia.”
The Virginia pulled into Port NY with 7 sailors laid up for repairs after a miraculous escape from
shipwreck when completely surrounded by 6 waterspouts which threatened to engulf her. She ran
into a storm on Tuesday off Hatteras, the storm lasting 60 hours, and with the 6 waterspouts hanging
around the vessel for hours. A tremendous sea came aboard and the galleys and cabin were flooded
40' deep. Members of the crew were thrown about. On Wednesday another wave came aboard, but
did not do as much damage. Captain Gech managed to keep the ship away from the spouts, but it was
a hard fight. The storm, he said, was the worst he ever encountered.
EDJ, Sat Apr 6, 1907.
6. The Liner “Provence.”
On Thursday night, 4 to 5 waves of mountainous height suddenly loomed up and broke fairly over
the steamer Provence. Captain Felix Tournier and 1st Officer Provost were almost washed from the
bridge. Likewise, Madame Olive Fremstad, the opera singer, was almost carried overboard. Sailor
Gaston Forve noticed her plight, caught her skirt, and managed to hold on until assistance arrived.
EDJ, Sat Nov 2, 1907.
7. The Steamer “Saint Andrew.”
A storm had set in last Friday, lashing the sea until the waves were running mountain high in mid
ocean. Against these waves, however, she was making good time until she encountered the tidal
wave. Looming up like a huge wall of water directly ahead of the vessel, it towered above the others.
The 1st Officer on deck thought for a moment that it was an iceberg, the misty froth of the huge sea
resembling snow. The wave swept clear over the life boats, filling them completely, passed high over
the “crow’s nest,” and filled the vessel fore and aft. It swept the decks clear and filled the stoke hole.
Against it the ship fairly staggered and it was feared for a few moments that she would go under. It
fairly hurled her backward and for several minutes the engines could hardly hold her to her course.
Officers of the steamer think the wave was caused by a submarine eruption.
EDJ, Wed Feb 19, 1908.
8. The United States Government Tug “Nezinscott.”
The Nezinscott, Captain Thomas Evans, bound from Portsmouth, NH, to Boston, MA, was struck
by a heavy sea about 5 miles off Lanesville, Cape Ann, early today. Her end was sudden. Carried
high on a monster wave, the little vessel failed to right herself as she sank into the trough and turned
turtle without an instant’s warning. There was no time to launch the boats in an ordinary way, but
Seamen Bitters and a companion grasped on as it went out with the rush to water, and after the tug
had gone down drew aboard the remainder of those saved from the sea. Captain Evans and a
companion clung to a piece wreckage and were picked up by a Gloucester life saving crew. Four
crew members remain missing.
EDJ, Wed Aug 11, 1909.
9. Steamship “Menominee.”
High seas with hardly a breath of wind was the unaccountable visitation last Sunday upon the
Menominee while steaming toward Boston from Antwerp. Captain Anfindsen was as much puzzled
as the most sea ignorant of his 120 passengers to account for the ocean’s freakishness, for there had
not been the vestige of a storm the day of the phenomenon or before it. The Captain suggested that
there might have been a seismic disturbance somewhere to the south. A possible solution to the
strange story was suggested by the experience of the fruit steamer Admiral Farragut, which arrived
at Boston from Port Antonio, Jamaica.
When the Farragut was off the southern coast of FL a few days ago, the officers thought they were
to be caught in a hurricane. There was a fall in the barometer, the sea was absolutely calm and the
air still, and ominous black clouds were fleeting across the sky. Following the calm the wind began
to arise and shifted rapidly, from one point of the compass to another. No hurricane broke, but
chances are that it did wrack its fury in a more SE direction and created the waves which caused the
Menominee to pitch and roll for a few hours.
EDJ, Wed Aug 26, 1909.
10. Queen Mary
The QM docked in Southampton, England, Monday March 30, 1915, with passengers and
crewmen nursing cuts and bruises caused by a single huge wave in the mid Atlantic. Members of the
crew reported the 81,000 ton ship was pitched 22 degrees one way and 16 degrees the other by the
wave. Some passengers were thrown about their cabins, and some were tossed from bar stools.
Pocono Record (PA), Sunday March 30, 2003.
11. Fleet of Explorer Christopher Columbus
(Reprinted from TsuInfo Alert, v. 5, no. 3, June 2003, p 5.)
August 1, 1498:
“Forty-eight hours later the fleet rounded the (south)-western tip of Trinidad and sailed into what
is today the Gulf of Paria. The ships had hardly taken up a northerly bearing when Columbus heard
a fearsome roaring from behind. He turned to see a rogue wave - possibly created by volcanic activity
or a tectonic shift - a wall of water as high as the ships and approaching faster than they could
escape. The Admiral later said he could feel the fear the thing created in him long after it reached
the fleet and lifted the vessels, hoisting them higher than anything he’d ever experienced and then
dropping them into its huge trough.” (1)
(1) Columbus in the Americas, William Least Heat-Moon. John Wiley & Sons, 2002, p 142.
Other brief articles on the White Star S/S “Teutonic” event state that the cause was due to one
of the horrors of ship captains, a massive earthquake tsunami; however, further investigation would
have to be conducted to prove this. No further investigation is required to explain destruction and
damage to American war ships in port by tsunami.
G. DESTRUCTION OF AMERICAN WARSHIPS BY TSUNAMI
Disappearances and accidents, especially unusual, to ships have always fueled the imaginations of
people, probably since the first ships were made. A list of such ships in print would fill volumes. The
following articles from the EDJ gives a good synopsis of the mystery of such events.
1. Naval Mysteries: War Vessels of the United States That Have Disappeared
“Curious disappearances and accidents to our warships characterized the early history of our navy,
and in spite of all the efforts of the navy department to explain the cause of the disasters, many of
them are as absolute mysteries today as when they happened. When the government built ten new
gunboats to prosecute the war against Tripoli in 1805, they were sent out as soon as they were
finished and before they were named. Each one was given a number and dispatched to the seat of the
war. No. 7 sailed from New York July 20, 1805, under the command of Lieutenant Ogelvie, and after
she cleared Sandy Hook light she was never heard from again. She went down with all on board
before she had even been named.
A most extraordinary accident was that which happened to the corvet Monongahela at Santa Cruz
in 1867. While at anchor in the harbor a tremendous tidal wave lifted her upon its crest and carried
her clean over the town of Frederichstadt (sic Frederiksted) and back again without injuring the town
or the boat to any great extent. The receding wave landed her on the beach instead of in the deep
water of the harbor, and it cost our government $100,000 to float her again. Fully as strange was the
fate of the sloop-of-war Wateree.
She was anchored in the harbor of Arica, Peru, in 1868, when a huge tidal wave swept inland and
flooded the whole city. The wave carried the sloop several miles inland and finally landed her in the
midst of a tropical forest. It was impossible to release her from such a peculiar position, and the
government sold her for a nominal sum. The purchasers turned the vessel into a hotel, and the
remains of that once formidable war vessel loom up in the tropical forest as a monument to the
power of tidal waves.
Among the other cases of disaster which are attributed to the violence of the waves or weather
there is none more interesting than that of the strange fate of the Saratoga. When she sailed from
Philadelphia in October, 1780, under the command of Captain James Young, there was no finer or
handsomer war vessel afloat. That she was as formidable as she was attractive was soon
demonstrated in a practical way. After cruising around a short time she captured three British vessels
in succession, and then, with her prizes, she started to return to Philadelphia, but off the Delaware
Capes she encountered a British ship of the line. As the Saratoga carried only 18 guns and the
Intrepid was a 74 gun ship, Captain Young considered it safer to run away. The enemy did not chase
her far, but returned to protect and recapture the British prizes. The Saratoga sailed away in the very
teeth of a storm, and she was never heard from again.” EDJ, Mon, Oct 7, 1907.
Two of the above occurrences were caused by an earthquake-induced local tsunami. The
destruction of an American war ship in 1916 was from tsunami, reason for the tsunami still
2. Virgin Islands Earthquake and Tsunami, Nov 18, 1867
War Vessels “Monongahela,” “Susquehanna,” “DeSoto,” and “La Plata”
(A CAT 4 hurricane had hit the Virgin Islands, then moved E-W across Puerto Rico, on Oct 29)
Report from the Flagship Susquehanna, 230 pm:
20' waves entered the harbor 10 minutes after the quake hit, sinking a small steamer and sailing
vessel. Vessels at anchor were lifted from their moorings and carried onto the rocks. The De Soto
was hit broadside and carried from her mooring, both chains snapping, thrown against a new wharf,
then swept back into deep water. The Susquehanna met 3 waves in succession head on. Small craft
inshore were lifted up, thrown into streets and left stranded along the water front. Boats were
capsized with men in the water swimming for their lives. The bay subsided into sort of a whirlpool.
Report from the De Soto, Island of St Thomas, 250 pm:
Immediately after the quake, water rushed out of the harbor with great violence, returning as a 23'
wave. There were 4 waves, the last only 12-15". During the event, the ship swung around all points
of the compass not less than 20 times.
Report from the La Plata, 230 pm:
Hit by 2 immense waves, the 2nd carrying off 2-3 boats.
Report from the Monongahela, on the west coast in Frederiksted, 300 pm:
Immediately after the quake harbor water receded rapidly from the beach, then the current changed
immediately and drove the ship toward the beach. Reflux of the wave kept her in water deep enough
to float, but the sea returned in a 25-30' wave and carried her over the warehouse into the first street
fronting the bay. The reflux of this wave left her on a coral reef. All happened in 3 minutes. She was
eventually floated off the reef.
3. Arica, Peru now Chile, Earthquake and Tsunami, Aug 16, 1868
War Vessels “Fredonia,” “Watree,” and the Peruvian “Americana”
Three navy ships were anchored in the port of Arica when an 8.5 quake struck, generating a Pacific-wide teletsunami. Several minutes after the quake, the 1st wave arrived at Arica as a rapid rise of
water, followed by a fierce withdrawal. The 2nd , a 90' wave, was the larger. The American store ship
Fredonia was dashed to pieces on the rocks of a harbor island, killing all but 2 crew members. The
American warship Watree and the Peruvian warship Americana were carried far inland and
grounded, the Watree in near perfect condition. The Americana lost 83 men, including the captain,
with the Watree reporting only 1 casualty. In the port city of Arica, 25,000 died, part of the 70,000
killed by this earthquake and tsunami.
4. Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Tsunami, August 29, 1916
War Vessels “Memphis” and “Castine”
According to crew member Alvion P Mosier, the loss of the Memphis was the greatest sea disaster
in peacetime that the Navy had ever suffered. The Memphis was in Santo Domingo to support the
Marines stationed there, and was the flagship to senior officer Admiral Pond. The ship’s
commanding officer was Captain Edward J Beach. San Domingo harbor was a very exposed
anchorage, open to the S and E. Memphis and the gunboat Castine were anchored in 55' of water.
On this Tuesday morning, the Admiral and 2 aides went ashore and were met by the US Consul. At
1 pm the cruiser put ashore a recreation party, which went ½ mile upstream in the Ozama River,
where the Marines were billeted at Fort Ozama. Shortly after, one of the Memphis’ dinghies
capsized, and it was noticed when raising it the ship was rolling more than usual, but there was no
wind. Rolling became very heavy, and the Captain looked seaward and saw to his horror an immense
wave about 70' high approaching the harbor fast and obscuring the horizon. It was now 345 pm.
The swell became enormous, washing over her, and with her keel occasionally touching the
seabed, waves now estimated at 40'. The large wave had slowed. It was carrying before it a huge area
of sand and mud, and the nearer it approached, the more the swell increased. The launch sent to pick
up the recreation party emerged from the Ozama, pitching then capsizing. The Castine could not
lower boats to the sailors in the water, but threw life belts and other objects in the water to help the
men. She had built up enough steam to reach deeper water and lower swells, but the Memphis had
not. The Memphis continued to roll, as much as 70 degrees, with the crew to their astonishment
witnessing green seas descending into the funnels. When the enormous wave reached her, she was
beam on to the wave.
A trough appeared about 100 yards ahead of the wave, slowing as the crest of the wave built up,
curving over the horrified onlookers, the peak about 50' above the bridge, itself 40' above the water
line. It was in the form of 3 gigantic steps, each with a large plateau atop it, the whole now rushing
shoreward at colossal speed. With a roar like an express train, the wave broke over the Memphis.
She ended up onshore, after having been grounded several times on the razor-sharp coral bottom,
once with the ship’s port side aground, the 18,000 ton ship thrown onto her beam ends. The ship was
a total wreck, and 40 lives were lost. She was to wait on the rocks for 21 years for the arrival of the
Many decades later in the submarine age, the USS “Triton” circumnavigated the globe, submerged,
in 88 days, following the course Magellan made over 400 years ago. When the sub returned to New
London, CT, it was flying the flag of the Memphis. The commander of the Triton was Captain
Edward J Beach, Jr.
Natural forces have always plagued military ships, sometimes with great historical significance
such as the destruction of the Spanish Armada by a great storm. The developments in weather
forecasting have provided the military with useful tools for planning military operations, one of the
great forecasts being the fair weather window of opportunity in a stormy period assuring the
successful WWII Invasion of Normandy. Recent advances in satellite pictures and computer
modeling have greatly aided the protection of military ships, providing the ability to avoid great
storms and hurricanes, whether by diverting course at sea or leaving port before hurricane landfall.
Unfortunately, satellites cannot see what is happening below ground. Great earthquakes still strike
without warning and produce tsunami. Sometimes no cause can be given for a tsunami, as in the case
of the Memphis. Ships in all ports, as well as coastal military stations themselves, are extremely
vulnerable to tsunami, especially local tsunami. Military ships at safe anchorage in port have been
disabled or destroyed by tsunami in the past, with the loss of scores of sailors.
American war vessels now take anchorage in harbors world-wide. The 1932 Santa Cruz del Sur,
Cuba, tsunamic hurricane killed thousands of people. Was the gigantic wave local, only striking this
area, or, if the wave was indeed from an underwater slide, did it extend along the entire SW coast
of Cuba, where the US Naval Station at Guantanamo is located? Also, in a 1772 tsunamic hurricane
at Santa Cruz, the sea rose 72' above its usual height and carried every ship ashore, some 300'
inland. Large stone were brought down from the mountains. Had the 1772 event been forgotten by
1932? The 1867 earthquake tsunami damaged and disabled American war vessels in the Virgin
Islands, with the Monongahela thrown ashore at Frederiksted. Did tsunami reach the eastern tip of
Puerto Rico, where the Roosevelt Roads Naval Station is located? In an 1889 hurricane, a tidal wave
destroyed Humacuo, just down the road from the naval station, killing 80.
It is now known that the ocean can receded followed by tsunami in the Mid Atlantic region. The
New York Harbor region was disturbed after the 1884 quake, and the ocean receded perhaps more
than once in the mid 1890s, witnessed at Averne-by-the-Sea, NY, Sandy Hook and Seaside Park, NJ.
Just to the NE of Sandy Hook is the mile-long pier of Earl Naval Weapons Station at Leonardo. With
war vessels now deployed world-wide, tsunami mitigation appears to be more needed now than
This page was composed by Harry G. Woodworth, National Weather Service (retired).
Top of page picture submitted by James Eberwine, National Weather Service (retired).(October storm at LeHavre, France)
Bottom of page picture submitted by Roy Miller, National Weather Service (retired).(Surf's Up!)