July 9, 1958: Surf’s Up, as 1,700-Foot Wave Scours Alaskan Bay

Tony Long:

1958: The tallest wave ever recorded — splashing nearly 500 feet taller than the Empire State Building — explodes down Lituya Bay in the Gulf of Alaska.

Lituya Bay is a T-shaped fjord on the coast of the Alaskan Panhandle, west of Glacier Bay and about 120 miles west-northwest of Juneau. It measures 7 miles long by 2 miles at its widest point and has a narrow mouth (roughly 1,600 feet wide) that makes navigation difficult during high tides. Once inside, however, vessels (mostly fishing boats) find a snug anchorage among the coves lining the shore. Water from three glaciers empties into Lituya Bay, which is over 700 feet deep in places.

This topography was a major ingredient in the formation of the tsunami. (Or, more informally, megatsunami, a word used to describe a wave in excess of 100 meters, or 328 feet).