As part of a nationwide campaign to ready coastal residents for the possibility of a tsunami on American shores, the National Weather Service included areas along the Gulf Coast in the week's readiness activities.

An article in the Houston Chronicle notes that while a major earthquake is highly unlikely in the Gulf of Mexico — though quakes have happened in the Gulf, notably in 2006 and 2011 — it's better to be prepared than caught off-guard.

Of course, the Galveston and Houston areas aren't in any immediate danger, but it's not impossible.

The nearest active fault lines that could generate a tsunami-causing earthquake are off the coast of Mexico and Puerto Rico, U.S. Geological Survey research geophysicist Uri ten Brink told the Houston Chronicle in 2011.

Although there are no known active fault lines in the Gulf of Mexico, said Brink, an inactive fault line on the Cuban coast facing toward the Gulf shows signs of latent movement and cannot be ruled out as a source of a future earthquake. Undersea landslides could have an outside chance of causing a tsunami, albeit a minor one.

While unlikely, a tsunami generated by an earthquake in the Caribbean could easily reach at least some part the Gulf of Mexico if conditions are right. Tsunamis are known to travel long distances — the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami spread thousands of miles across the Indian Ocean, and the 2011 tsunami in Japan caused damage and even one fatality on the west coast of the United States.

Residents along any coastline should be familiar with the warning signs of an impending tsunami. National Geographic wrote up a pretty good list of these warning signs after a small tsunami event in 2007.

  • The first and most obvious warning sign is an earthquake, of course.
  • A rapid, noticeable retreat of water from the coastline is a telltale sign that a tsunami is imminent. As the author of the NatGeo piece points out, "many people were killed by the Indian Ocean tsunami because they went down to the beach to view the retreating ocean exposing the seafloor."
  • The first wave isn't the end of the tsunami. Larger tsunamis tend to come in a series of waves, and subsequent waves could be larger than the last.
  • "Tsunamis can travel up rivers and streams that lead to the ocean." Many people who lived in California during the 2011 tsunami documented the waves moving up rivers along coastal areas in the state.

If you live on the Gulf Coast and you're worried about a tsunami, you probably don't have to worry, but it's always best to be prepared. Besides, as the author of the Chronicle article writes, worse things could happen: "A giant meteorite landing in the Gulf, though, probably wouldn't bode well for the area."

[Image via NOAA]