Hastings is almost as far as you can get from the small Polynesian kingdom of more than 170 South Pacific islands. But the town’s weather kiosk, on the seafront just to the west of the pier, recorded ‘blips’ in air pressure after an underwater volcano erupted on Saturday, sending a tsunami towards the Pacific island nation.
The kiosk houses a clockwork barograph, which records air pressure. It recorded pronounced changes in air pressure late on Saturday afternoon and again around six hours later. Hastings Borough Council, whose volunteer meteorologists supplied the data and record the weather in the town 365 days a year, released a photo of the barograph chart showing the blips.
“These are the impact the volcanic eruption, literally half a world away, had on the air pressure here in Hastings,” said Kevin Boorman, marketing and major projects manager at the council. “Changes in air pressure like this travel at the speed of sound. Tonga is just over 10,000 miles away and, at the speed of sound, that’s around 14 hours away.”
The town’s meteorologists explained that as the Tonga eruption was at 0410 GMT on Saturday, the first shockwave pulses would start to be recorded in the UK at approximately 6pm to 7pm. The barograph chart showed the first blip in Hastings at 5pm which, allowing for the barograph running up to two hours slow at the end of the week (as the clockwork mechanism runs slightly slow) means it actually recorded the eruption, as expected, at around 6.30pm. The second downward blip recorded approximately six hours later was also part of the volcanic eruption pressure wave recording.
“It is quite amazing to realise that here in Hastings we are able to measure – and see – the impact of a volcano in the South Pacific, and recorded on clockwork equipment,” said Kevin.
The eruption triggered a tsunami, creating an “unprecedented disaster” in the region, said Tonga’s government. Rescue teams have been sent to some of the outlying islands, including one where all the houses were destroyed. There have been three known deaths in the disaster - two nationals and a Brighton-born woman. Angela Glover, 50, died trying to rescue her dogs in Tonga’s capital Nuku’alofa, where she and her husband James had made their home.