Satellite photo of Tonga volcano eruption
The eruption of an underwater volcano off Tonga seen from space. Photo from NOAA GOES-West satellite via REUTERS

An underwater volcano erupted in the South Pacific near the island nation of Tonga, triggering a tsunami advisory Saturday morning for the West Coast.

The National Weather Service office in San Diego warned of waves of 1 to 2 feet arriving at 7:50 a.m., and a surf camera at Scripps Pier showed surfers riding high waves at the time.

“Coastal areas of San Diego County could experience strong currents that may be hazardous to swimmers, boats and coastal structures,” a San Diego County emergency announcement warned at 6:44 a.m..

“Please move off the beach and out of the harbors and marinas. Avoid the coastline. Do not go to the coast to watch the tsunami” the announcement advised.

The weather service canceled the tsunami advisory at 1:30 p.m., cautioning earlier that “tsunamis are a series of waves dangerous many hours after initial arrival time.””

The agency reported at 12:32 p.m. that San Diego had recorded 1.4- foot waves and La Jolla experienced 0.6 feet. The highest tsunami coastal observations in California were in Port San Luis, with 4.3 feet reported.

The eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai underwater volcano, located 40 miles north of Tonga’s main island of Nuku’alofa, began shortly after 8 p.m. Pacific time on Friday and was photographed by a weather satellite.

Tsunami waves of 2.7 feet were observed by gauges at the Tongan capital and waves of 2 feet at Pago Pago, the capital of American Samoa, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said.

Fiji issued a tsunami warning, urging residents to avoid the shorelines “due to strong currents and dangerous waves.”

Jese Tuisinu, a television reporter at Fiji One, posted a video on Twitter showing large waves washing ashore, with people trying to flee from the oncoming waves in their cars.

“It is literally dark in parts of Tonga and people are rushing to safety following the eruption,” he said.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, small parts of the cities of Berkeley and Albany near the bay were ordered to evacuate, and in Santa Cruz a harbor area was flooded.

Updated at 3:15 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.