Tourist Coastal Town Hit by 'Meteotsunami' As Streets Flooded, Boats Cast Adrift

A "meteotsunami" hit a Spanish tourist resort on Tuesday night, disrupting fishing fleets and flooding streets with water.

The sharp rise in sea level at Santa Pola, located in the province of Alicante, "surprised" locals, according to the area's local police force, and caused several boats to drift.

These weather events are not unheard of in the area, according to the University of Alicante's Laboratory of Climatology. The lab added that this week's storm "has been somewhat more intense than usual" in a tweet.

It also said the conditions seen this week point to "a rissaga or meteotsunami."

Tsunamis—giant oceanic waves typically caused by earthquakes—are well-known phenomena, but meteotsunamis are only just beginning to be better understood by scientists, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Rissaga is the Catalan name for them.

Unlike regular tsunamis, meteotsunamis are thought to be triggered by changes in air pressure, often driven by fast-moving weather events like storms.

When a meteotsunami hits shallow waters, it can slow down and increase in height, potentially posing a danger to coastal communities.

Meteotsunamis are hard to predict, because their characteristics are very much like a tsunami triggered by an earthquake. Meteorologists are continuing to work on ways these weather events can be forecasted.

In a statement posted to its Facebook page on Tuesday night EDT, the Santa Pola police department wrote, translated from Spanish: "An unexpected meteorological phenomenon has surprised us tonight, with a sudden 'rise in tide' that has caused many problems for the moored fishing fleet, even causing several boats to drift.

"It has caused different damages to the coastline, so we ask for your patience while the competent services carry out the corresponding tasks to mitigate the consequences."

Meteotsunamis tend to be regional and have occurred in the U.S. Notable examples, listed by the U.S. National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program (NTHMP), including one that struck Lake Erie in May 2012. The 7-foot wave swept beachgoers off their feet and flooded boats.

And in June 1954, seven lives were lost when a 10-foot meteotsunami hit Lake Michigan, pushing people off of piers, the NTHMP states.

Spain is currently bracing for a heatwave, with areas of the country set to experience temperatures of more than 104 degrees Fahrenheit on Friday and Saturday this week, newspaper El País reported on Tuesday, citing Spanish national weather agency Aemet.

Aemet spokesperson Rubén del Campo said the country was set to see "an intense and lasting heat" and added a temperature record could be broken, according to El País.

Santa Pola
A stock photo shows an aerial view of Santa Pola, Spain. This week's meteotsunami reportedly sent boats adrift and flooded streets. Medvedkov/Getty