Experts at the U.S. Geological Survey, in a paper released Wednesday, say a "hypothetical but plausible" magnitude 9.1 quake could create waves as high as 24 feet that could smash into California's coastal regions with little warning, just hours for most locations.
California, with its large swaths of coastal development, is at risk from tsunamis created by earthquakes anywhere on the Pacific rim, the paper's authors said, noting waves from the tsunami created by the March 2011 Japan earthquake rolled across the Pacific and caused $50 million to $100 million in damage along the California coast.
"Although this pales in comparison to the loss of lives and property in Japan," the Geological Survey's authors wrote, "the U.S. government must ask whether California, and the national economy, will some day face worse consequences from other distant-source tsunamis. Unfortunately, the answer is 'yes.'"
The USGS scenario project was based on input from more than 150 specialists from universities, state and local governments, and coastal industries.
"The idea is to say: Look, these are not distant events, these could actually happen here," Kathleen Tierney, director of the Natural Hazards Center at the University of Colorado Boulder, said. "This is meant to get tsunamis on the public's radar."