ELMIRA, N.Y. (WETM)- An underwater volcano eruption in the South Pacific on Saturday, January 15th had impacts felt thousands of miles away.

The Tonga Islands are close to 8,000 miles away from New York, but the shock waves from the eruption were seen in New York and all throughout the United States.

Ross Lazear, Instructional Support Specialist of Atmospheric & Environmental Sciences, University at Albany, said, “The Hunga Tonga eruption was so violent that it caused shockwaves, much like a sonic boom.  These waves travel at the speed of sound and were actually traceable at weather stations around the globe.  Here in Upstate New York, we could identify a subtle rise and drop in surface pressure of about 1 millibar total (small, but detectable even for a backyard weather station!) using the New York State Mesonet, which is a statewide state-of-the-art network of weather and environmental observation systems.”

As the wave moved across the United States it first approached from the west, Lazear then spoke about how another wave then moved in after “this wave moved across the Northeast U.S. first from the west, and then about twelve hours later from the east, as the wave spread out in all directions across the globe.  Satellite imagery actually shows that you can see cloud-like features very high up in the atmosphere as the wave moved by, similar to ripples spreading out in a pond. ” 


The wave could be seen on pressure sensors as it moved past across the United States.

(Video: Iowa Environmental Mesonet via ASOS NWS/MADIS 5 minute interval data.)

Nick Bassill, PhD., Director of Research & Development at University at Albany Center Of Excellence and Affiliated with NYS Mesonet spoke also on the topic. Bassill said, “It caused subtle changes in pressure. It was not enough of a pressure change to make your ears pop but if you have sensitive equipment you can see it. We were able to see the oscillation move by”.