The Role of the National Weather Service in Tsunami Forecasting

NOAA and Tsunamis
Blue boxes indicate NOAA responsibilities for tsunami events. Square boxes indicate organizations. Rounded boxes indicate data and products. NOAA

Tsunamis are a massive influx of water caused by earthquakes, volcanoes, and landslides under the ocean. Tsunamis are often confused as weather events because of the massive flooding that results from the rapid flow of water inland. The flow of water in a tsunami is abrupt. The displacement of large volumes of water move at rapid speeds destroying cities many miles inland. Tsunami waves can travel through an entire ocean.

The Role of NOAA

The word tsunami is a combination of two Japaneses words meaning "harbor wave". The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) monitors the ocean through a series of buoys. NOAA's role in the monitoring of tsunamis is to provide reliable forecasting and a warning system for public safety.

The US Geological Survey has the responsibility of monitoring seismic activity through a worldwide network of seismograph stations. The USGS also carries the responsibility of mapping the ocean floor and coastal topography. The size of the seismic activity combined with the topography of the ocean basin and coastal regions affect the size and distribution of tsunami waves.

NOAA monitors many physical characteristics of the ocean including fisheries, wave height, and sea surface temperature. A network of oceanic buoys provides data on wave height. The data is collected and analyzed as part of the Tsunami Warning System.

Tude gauges also provide measurements of water height in coastal regions.

The National Weather Service is a key agency within NOAA. Reports of tsunamis on television often report NOAA data, or local meteorological agency data. The production of the data comes directly from NOAA, the USGS, and other international meteorological agencies through a cooperative network.

The responsibilities lie within several government agencies. Hearing meteorological statements on a news report often confuses people into thinking tsunamis are weather-related events. In addition, the National Weather Service provides communities and emergency personnel with Tsunami Ready information. The Tsunami Ready program provides links between emergency officials and government agencies for the safety of a community.

FEMA plays a role in tsunami events. The agency helps in the clean-up efforts after a tsunami. FEMA also provides educational resources to communities before, during, and after a tsunami affects an area.


Tsunamis are not weather events, but weather agencies do monitor the events. Forecasting, modeling, flood monitoring, and emergency responses are all coordinated by government agencies, including the National Weather Service.