An 8.9-magnitude earthquake off the coast of Japan today triggered tsunami warnings as far away as the West Coast of the United States. The only thing you can do in a tsunami is to get out of the way, according to public safety agencies.
Forecasters can't predict how big a tsunami will be at any given location because wave height can be dramatically affected by the shape of the coastline and whether the seafloor slopes gradually or drops off sharply. A tsunami warning, on the other hand, means a tsunami has been verified and could be close.

In a tsunami warning, residents of low-lying areas should evacuate and head to higher ground, according to the NWS. A tsunami watch means that there is a risk for a tsunami, but the existence of a wave has not yet been verified. Under a tsunami warning, the NWS will give estimated times of wave arrival for coastal areas. Areas south of Point Concepcion to the Mexico border are under a tsunami advisory, as are coastal areas in Washington, British Columbia and Alaska.

According to the California Emergency Management Agency, people in tsunami hazard zones should move to higher ground after earthquakes and stay there. Local officials are best able to interpret the risks and make decisions about how devastating a tsunami might be.

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