SEATTLE -- The giant tsunami that hit Japan last March could have done more damage to the U.S. West Coast had it not been for a lucky break -- it hit at low tide.

Vasily Titov from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration told tsunami experts gathered in Seattle on Friday that it could have been much worse: A computer model he created showed that the wave height could have reached 14 feet in low-lying areas along Washington's coast if the tide was high.

Seattle is the center of tsunami research. Thirteen years ago, NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Lab was experimenting with buoys connected to sensitive instruments on the ocean floor to warn if a Tsunami was approaching and how big it would be. That buoy network gave accurate warnings in March (and provided data for Titov's model). Now The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration wants these buoys to get better warnings.

But some of the buoys are showing signs of wear and tear, making them less reliable. Experts want more buoys and fixes to existing ones to improve tsunami forecasts across the ocean.

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