Difference Between a Tsunami and a Meteotsunami Wave Train

In the last couple of decades, Tsunamis have killed hundreds of thousands of people using a series of giant waves called “wave trains” that also happen in what’s called a Meteotsunami. They can last minutes or hours bringing death and destruction. What’s the Difference Between a Tsunami and A Meteotsunami Wave Train?  

Tsunamis waves are caused by earthquakes under the ocean while Meteotsunamis are created by fast-moving storms above the surface of the ocean & on the Great Lakes, both displace large amounts of water causing waves trains that can destroy coastlines and kill people but differ in size and speed.


Many people have the belief that tsunamis are single waves. They are not. Instead, tsunamis are “wave trains” consisting of multiple waves that come to shore at speeds of 500 mph.


What Are Tsunami Waves


A tsunami can strike in little time and warning because they are suddenly caused by a large displacement of ocean water. They can be caused by Volcanic Eruptions, Landslides Meteorites or the most common reason, Earthquakes.

Over the last 240 years in the United States alone there has been 24 Tsunamis alone recorded. In the deepest parts of the ocean, a Tsunami starts as small as 1-3 feet on the bottom and is hardly recognizable even to sailors floating on top of them.

Tsunami is a Japanese word that means “harbor wave” The front characters Tsu mean “Harbor” and the last “nami” means “wave” They have been recorded for centuries. Scientist believe that an Asteroid hit the Indian Ocean about 4800 years ago that created waves 600 ft. high.

Most Tsunamis about 80% happen in the Pacific Ocean’s “Ring of Fire” It’s an active area where Earthquakes and Volcanos are commonplace. They happen in other parts of the globe, as the Indian Ocean but rarely.

The Tsunami in the Indian Ocean in 2005 was one of the powerful recorded in decades that killed up to 200,000 people. It’s considered the most powerful Tsunami in History. It was caused by a 9.0 magnitude earthquake off the coast of Sumatra according to the United States Geological Survey that monitors earthquakes worldwide.

A violent movement of the Earth’s tectonic plates displaced an enormous amount of water, sending powerful shock waves in every direction. Tectonic plates (Plate tectonics is a scientific theory that describes the large-scale motion of Earth’s lithosphere. This theoretical model builds on the concept of continental drift which was developed during the first few decades of the 20th century.)

It only took hours for the killer wave that developed in the epicenter to hit the coastline of 11 Indian Ocean countries. Killing people and demolishing property from Africa to Thailand.

An Earthquake is known to always presides a Tsunami this causes the violent movement of the earth and a huge displacement of seawater.

A Tsunami is not made up of a single wave but rather a series of waves called “Wave Trains”. The first wave might not be the worst that the Tsunami has to offer. Tsunamis waves can be as much as 60 miles long and can be an hour apart. 

The Indian Tsunami Train Waves traveled about 3,000 miles to reach Africa’s coastline, killed many people and destroyed millions of dollars of property.

Both normal ocean waves and tsunami waves can be described by their period (time between two waves), wavelength (horizontal distance between waves), amplitude (wave height), and speed. Normal ocean waves are caused by wind, weather, tides, and currents.

They are separated by periods of 5 to 20 seconds and lengths of 300 to 600 feet. they will travel up to 5 to 60 miles per hour. Tsunami Waves have 10 minutes to 2 hours and wavelengths of up to 60-300 miles. Normal waves only involve the uppermost level of the surface of the ocean, whereas Tsunami Train Waves involves the whole water column from the surface to the sea’s bottom.

the waves push against the shallower sea bottom slow up and rise in height some extremely high. In India’s, Tsunami Train Waves grew to over 30 feet tall and covered the island for thousands of feet. Many people there said the Tsunami made a horrible “freight train sound”

The first wave in the series of a train that is brought on by the Tsunami may not be the worst. The series could come 5 minutes apart or 1 hour apart. People have been killed trying to return home thinking the waves were done only to have one more of these train waves come in.  Survivors say that the Train Waves moves as fast and hard going back out as it does coming in. Many people get killed by the retrieving wave or by a surprising second or third wave. 

A Tsunami wave may be small at one point on the beach and huge a short distance away. Tsunami waves travel up rivers too. People need to stay away from rivers and streams during a Tsunami that leads to the ocean. Always keep 72 hours worth of medical supplies and food and water supplies in case of an emergency.

Where Do Tsunamis Occur In the United States

According to the NOAA, the places in the US that are at risk from Tsunamis are Alaska, California, Washington, Oregon, and Hawaii. Because a Tsunami can travel great distances, damage from a Wave Train can be done on other continents and thousands of miles away. 

Scientist predicts that the next Tsunami will come from an earthquake off the Canary Islands and will cause damage to coastal cities in the United States like Boston and New York.

In the United States, the threat posed by tsunamis is greatest along the Pacific and Caribbean Coasts, but tsunamis are also possible on the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts.

In 2001, recognizing these threats and the vital role played by coastal communities in protecting the nation from tsunamis, the National Weather Service (NWS) and the National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program (NTHMP–a partnership led by NOAA that today includes the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Geological Survey, and 28 U.S. states and territories) established the TsunamiReady program to encourage and recognize community tsunami preparedness. Creating the NOAA US Tsunami Warning System By:

  • Detecting Tsunami populations at risk became a worldwide effort by the NOAA The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration after the Tsunami happened in Sumatra in 2004. The NOAA stepped up their efforts by:
  • Developing tsunami models for at-risk communities
  • Staffing NOAA warning centers around the clock
  • Expanding the warning coverage area to many parts of the world
  • Deploying Deep-ocean Assessment and
  • Report of Tsunamis (DART) buoy stations Installing sea-level gauges
  • Offering expanded community education through the Tsunami Ready program

The United States took charge of gathering worldwide information and training people to help speed up alarming coastal regions in the event of a Tsunami using what they call DARTS.

The DART program is a real-time monitoring system that provides data for forecasting tsunamis using a buoy and sensors on the ocean floor that measures the height of the water’s surface above the seafloor, water pressure, Seismic activity and sends an alert if it detects possible tsunami-like activity.

These monitors are located all over the world mainly in places where a Tsunami may hit. There is DART on the East Coast not far in the ocean off Atlantic City.

Not long ago a rare Tsunami was reported to hit the East Coast of USA, on the 13th June 2013, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Paul Whitmore, director of the NOAA Center for Tsunami Research, says that the weather system which moved through the area might have changed the air pressure enough to “generate waves that act like tsunamis.” Back then they could not explain it. It was another unexplainable type of strange weather system blamed on Global Warming and Rising Sea Levels that were the result of them.

I am a survivor in 2012 of Superstorm Sandy in New Jersey. We were all evacuated before the storm hit. I researched the DART system for an article I did and found that there was a DART off the coast of Atlantic City in NJ.

It was placed there in 2013. We always thought that Sandy was a Tsunami because of how officials from the State described it before it hit the Jersey coast. Chris Christie interrupted the Football game and said ” we needed to be evacuated because there was something out in the ocean and it was heading our way, something big”

We thought what a strange way to put it but it scared us enough to evacuate fast. Since then, a new type of weather system that would affect Jersey again was called a Meteotsunami. They acted like Tsunami but were not caused by seismic activity, volcanos, or meteorites. They most likely are the result of Global Warming.

 What is a Meteotsunami Train Waves


Despite the clear skies calm weather over the coast of New Jersey, Tsunami type waves crash on the beaches of NJ and Massachusetts. In Barnegat NJ, 3 people were injured when a 6-foot wave threw them off a fishing jetty and into the water. A meteotsunami generated by a 15-minute storm caused the deaths of seven people at Lake Michigan in 2003, the Sea Grant Institute at the University of Wisconsin reported.

The meteotsunami generated rip currents that pulled people away from the shore and put them in a situation that increased their risk of drowning. After the storm passed, the weather became agreeable and sunny. This led people to mistakenly believe it was safe to swim, so they went back into the water.

The wave’s heights were captured by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) coastal water-level stations from Puerto Rico to New England as well as a Deep-Ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis (DART) buoy 150 miles offshore. Due to the wave’s coincidence with a severe weather pattern and the lack of a detected earthquake or landslide, scientists deemed the event a “meteotsunami.”

A meteotsunami has characteristics similar to earthquake-generated tsunamis, but they are caused by air-pressure disturbances often associated with fast-moving weather systems, such as squall lines. These disturbances can generate waves in the ocean that travel at the same speed as the overhead weather system.

A Meteotsunami occurs when convective storms moving quickly above water cause a rapid change in air pressure which displaces the water, according to the National Ocean Service. This process generates waves that can cause damage to coastal areas and put people at risk of serious harm or, in some cases, death.

Like an Earthquake generated Tsunami the Meteotsuanmi affect the entire water column meaning from the surface of the ocean to the bottom just like a Tsunami wave and when it’s waves hit shallow water they rise in height and the intensity just like a Tsunami Wave Train series do in a Tsunami.

Recent studies have shown that Meteotsusami is more common than a Tsunami and can happen more than we thought. They have happened in Daytona Beach Florida to Maine and researchers has shown that certain parts of the world are more prone to this strange phenomenum than others. Areas in the Adriatic Sea, Mediterranean Sea, and a few of Japan’s gulfs and bays are prone due to variables like geography and weather patterns. It could be attributed to Global Warming.

Meteotsunami waves act like “train waves” in series and can last minutes or hours just as in a Tsunami. The good news is the same detection system we put in place for Tsunami can be used for a warning system that will do the same for new extreme events like Meteotsunami waves which act the same.

Despite their risk worldwide and numerous occurrence forecasting them has been hard to do because this phenomenon is not caused by earthquakes which are pre-requisite to a Tsunami.

But because of the observation systems and DARTS that were put in place, in the last years, researchers feel that it’s just a matter of time when they are added to NOAA list of warning systems and the information on them becomes available worldwide. 

All these extreme types of weather systems can be the result of Global Warming and Rising Sea Levels and creating strange new weather events that scientist have only started to examine. Their fear is that this could be a normal pattern of things to come.

Related Questions:

 Is Tsunami weather-related?

Earthquakes are only one of several ways that a tsunami can be generated. Tsunamis can also be caused by events such as underwater landslides, volcanic eruptions, land slumping into the ocean, meteorite impacts, or even the weather when the atmospheric pressure changes very rapidly

 What are the warning signs of a tsunami?

As a tsunami approaches shorelines, water may recede from the coast, exposing the ocean floor, reefs and fish. 3. Abnormal ocean activity, a wall of water, and an approaching tsunami create a loud “roaring” sound similar to that of a train or jet aircraft.

 Why are tsunamis so dangerous?

Very large tsunamis can cause damage to coastal regions thousands of miles away from the earthquake that caused them. Beaches, lagoons, bays, estuaries, tidal flats and river mouths are the most dangerous places to be. It is rare for a tsunami to penetrate more than a mile inland



Tsunamis: Facts About Killer Waves



Jim has worked in Water/Wastewater and the Water Filtration Business for over 3o years and has written over 200 articles on the Worldwide Water Situation.


Author/Editor, MyWaterEarth&Sky

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