Accessibility links

USA

Short-term Prediction of Earthquakes Difficult


A magnitude 6.0 earthquake rocked northern California’s Napa Valley on Sunday. Roads twisted and water mains burst. It was the wine country’s most severe quake in 15 years, and while hospitals treated many people, no one was killed.

“The magnitude of the earthquake reflects how much of the earth’s crust ruptured. It’s really an expression of the total energy that’s released when a part of the earth’s crust breaks apart," said David Applegate, Associate Director for Natural Hazards at the U.S. Geological Survey.

“We are fortunate that we didn’t see a lot of impacts to water infrastructure… A lot of the losses in earthquakes are from fires often because water mains have been broken, and there’s no way to fight them," he said.

Applegate says the timing of the event may have saved a lot of lives.

“It happened in the middle of the night. We saw a lot of cases where old brick buildings collapsed onto sidewalks. Those sidewalks were empty," he said.

A stroke of good luck, because Applegate says earthquakes are a bit of a surprise.

“Short-term prediction is not feasible, but what we do know is where large earthquakes occur," said Applegate.

Which means that scientists can predict percentage likelihood that a major quake will hit a given area over the next, few decades. When one begins, though, scientists can warn those in its path.

“Once an earthquake starts in one place, we can actually get the characteristics of the event and get an alert out ahead of the strong shaking," he said.

Applegate says the warning is not too far ahead of the quake, but 10 or 20 seconds may be enough to save your life.

“Certainly you can get underneath a sturdy piece of furniture. Drop, cover and hold on," he said.

Like anything, he says it’s a good idea to have a plan that includes fresh water and how to find loved ones after the disaster.

“Your quality of life after the event is really dependent on what you’ve done to plan before the event," said Applegate.

While the people of Northern California may have dodged a bullet in what could have been a far more damaging quake... others have cause for celebration, too. It seems that Napa Valley will continue exporting barrels of wine as normal. That’s likely part of the survival plan, too.

  • 16x9 Image

    Arash Arabasadi

    Arash Arabasadi is an award-winning multimedia journalist with a decade of experience shooting, producing, writing and editing. He has reported from conflicts in Iraq, Egypt, the Persian Gulf and Ukraine, as well as domestically in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, Maryland. Arash has also been a guest lecturer at Howard University, Hampton University, Georgetown University, and his alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife Ashley and their two dogs.

XS
SM
MD
LG