Warning for Pacific Beach - tsunami expected to raise coastal waters 1 to 2 feet in San Diego County

In this satellite image of undersea volcano eruption at the Pacific nation of Tonga Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022.
In this satellite image taken by Himawari-8, a Japanese weather satellite, and released by the agency, shows an undersea volcano eruption at the Pacific nation of Tonga Saturday.
(Japan Meteorology Agency via AP)

Public advised to stay clear of shoreline as increase in surge could last several hours


An undersea volcano that erupted Friday in the South Pacific near Tonga produced tsunami waves that arrived early Saturday in San Diego, raising coastal waters levels by 9 inches in San Diego and 7 inches at La Jolla, according to the National Weather Service.

The tsunami could push the increase to the 1 to 2 foot level before it is over.

“This should last into the afternoon and might cause some damage in harbors, where we could get strong currents and swirls, affecting docks and boats,” said Matt Moreland, meteorologist-in-charge of the weather service office in Rancho Bernardo.

“People should stay off the beaches,” he added.

The waves are expected to affect the entire San Diego County coastline.

The waves began arriving shortly before 8 a.m., roughly coinciding with a 6-foot, 1-inch high tide. The extra water also showed up as local surfers were trying to catch the tail of a west swell that has been pounding beaches since Wednesday.

The county Office of Emergency Services sent out an alert at 6:55 a.m. that the National Tsunami Warning Center had issued an advisory following the volcanic eruption roughly 5,300 miles southwest of San Diego. An advisory is less serious than a warning.

To many watching the beaches, the change was not easily discernable.

“Even a foot change be difficult for anyone to notice with the swell going on right now,” said Encinitas lifeguard Lt. John Strickland.

Videos posted on social media showed a more clear-cut surge in local marinas.

The warnings to stay away didn’t keep several looky-loos away from the water, up and down the coastline, although the drizzly morning weather likely helped keep those curious crowds small.

“There have been people right when the first event was supposed to occur on the overlooks,” Strickland said. “But the crowds are already gone.”

Lifeguards have been restricting access to the water line but haven’t officially closed beaches.

At the state beaches in North County, parking lots were closed to the public. Coronado lifeguards were keeping the sand clear of people, while Encinitas lifeguards had roped off access points.

The county’s Emergency Operations Services team is monitoring the situation and is in communication with all of San Diego’s coastal jurisdictions, the weather service and state.

Tsunamis are rare in Southern California.because the area is located far away from regions that produce the kind of underwater earthquakes and volcanos that generated such events.

But they do happen. The magnitude 8.8 earthquake that occurred off Chile in 2010 produced a small tsunami in San Diego Bay that damaged some docks.

Staff writer Morgan Cook contributed to this report.