AS AMBASSADORS OF the tourist industry, it is often our duty to answer the many questions visitors have about the recreational wonderland that is our Olympic Peninsula.
From our acidified ocean to our melting glaciers, there are many confounding conundrums that confuse the traveling public, causing them needless worry during an otherwise pleasant vacation.
It’s the warning signs that scare people. Often it is possible to view several signs at once warning us of the impending deadly tsunami, dangerous undertows, beach logs that kill, missing persons and cranky cougars on the loose.
In the interest of public safety and putting to rest the many vague misconceptions about these warning signs, here are some simple answers to these common problems.
What is a tsunami?
Every tribe of Native Americans of the Olympic Peninsula has an oral tradition of earthquakes and tsunamis.
These are caused by a tremendous battle between the Thunderbird, a large winged creature said to live in caves in the Blue Glacier on Mount Olympus, and a whale.
Apparently, the whale can put up quite a fight once the Thunderbird latches on to one with his big claws. This can cause the earth to shake, rattle and roll like waves in the ocean.
Sometimes, the Thunderbird drops the whale in the ocean, which can cause a wave so big it can wipe out an entire village.
The Thunderbird also drops the whale in the forest, clearing patches of open prairie, which remain to this day as reminders of these epic battles.
Tsunamis were said to be a wall of water stretching across the horizon. The only people who were able to escape were in their canoes when the wave hit the shore.
Cars are much faster than canoes, which is a good thing because the next tsunami to hit our shores could be a hundred feet high.
The last tsunami to hit the Olympic Peninsula was Jan. 26, 1700.
We know this from observers recording a 16-foot tsunami rolling across the Pacific where it slammed into Honshu Island in Japan. Scientists claim this was caused by a subduction event where the Juan de Fuca Plate underneath the Pacific Ocean collided with our continent, creating a megathrust earthquake with an estimated magnitude around 9-something.
Scientists studying tree-ring data in sunken forests and disrupted fossil records have determined these subduction events have occurred here about every 200 to 500 years.
The longer the period between subduction events, the more stress builds up between the tectonic plates, resulting in a more violent earthquake.
While it is impossible for modern science to predict the next battle between the Thunderbird and the whale, experts predict the next event will cause widespread damage and destruction throughout the Pacific Northwest.
FEMA estimates some 13,000 fatalities and 27,000 people would be injured.
A million people would be displaced, with 2.5 million needing food and water.
That’s no reason to let the tsunami ruin your vacation.
With a little careful planning and some good old-fashioned good luck, the next tsunami could become a seafood-gathering adventure of a lifetime. The tide always goes way out before the tsunami, leaving plenty of fish and crab stranded. You’ll have to be quick and skedaddle before the big wave comes back in, but if it were easy, everyone would be doing it.
And besides, you’re going to need all the food you can get once the grocery stores are reduced to rubble.
It’s up to everyone, whether we are tourists or not, to prepare for this disaster with plenty of garlic butter.
Next week, more tourist questions.
Pat Neal is a fishing guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.
He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via patneal [email protected]