I'm going to use Howard Dicus' phrase to describe what we were calling a "tsunami scare" during our coverage yesterday. As he put it it, there was "enough unnatural wave action to show there had been an event, but not enough to disrupt our lives for more than a day." (The gist of this also came from Pacific Tsunami Warning Center geophysicist Gerard Fryer, describing what happened.)
The most dramatic pictures had to come from our exclusive Web cam overlooking Hilo Bay and Coconut Island. You could actually see the tidal surges, with whitewater moving from left to right as the water receded from the bay, and then reversed direction as another surge entered, raising the water level again. It wasn't the eight-foot surge that the computer models had forecast, but there was still definitely something going on.
You also could see it in, of all places, the Ala Wai Canal. There were a handful of people who were looking at the water at the McCully Street bridge over the canal, but they didn't stick around very long. It wasn't as dramatic as the tidal surges at Hilo Bay, but as I looked down at the murky water, you could tell there was a strong current coming in, as the water level started rising. And then, the water would swirl around, as if deciding what direction to go in next, before rather rapidly heading back out to sea, stirring up more silt in the process. Litter, like old paper cups and a styrofoam lunch plate, floated by toward the ocean. And then, about ten minutes later, would return as another surge pushed water back into the canal. The outgoing current , the brown water notwithstanding, especially looked strong enough to pull someone out to the ocean, had it continued.
Some people mentioned the so called "Waveless Wednesday" of 1986, when there were massive traffic jams as people evacuated -- and others tried to go in the other direction to look at the waves, which never showed up. I was living on the mainland for that, but I was here for another tsunami scare in 1994, where a six-inch tsunami showed up. This tsunami is officially the first one I've actually witnessed, even if it wasn't really a wave.
While I was watching this with my photographer, a gentleman walking by paused to rant about how this event was another effort by the media to control the minds of the public, and that we had made the whole thing up because, in his words, absolutely nothing was happening. I listened to him as the incoming water below paused, and then began to lower and head back to sea.