April 15, 2008
Big California Earthquake Within 30 Years

The next big earthquake in California might not come until after the singularity or the robot take-over. So we might not still be around to deal with it.

The odds of avoiding a major quake in the next 30 years are about the same as flipping a coin and having it come up heads six times straight: almost nil, according to a new study.

The study, released April 14 in simultaneous news conferences at USC and in the San Francisco Bay area, finds a greater than 99 percent chance that a quake as big or bigger than the 1994 Northridge will hit somewhere in California by 2037.

But it could happen a lot sooner, according to the study. The chance of a big quake within five years is 50-50. The 10-year probability is about 75 percent.

Odds of a 7.5 quake are almost 50:50.

The 30-year probability of an even more damaging, magnitude 7.5 quake nearly 30 times stronger than Northridge is almost 50 percent, USC University Professor Thomas Jordan said at the news conference.

Last night Santa Barbara was rattled by a 3.2 earthquake. It was just strong enough to make one wonder if a much bigger one was about to start. Luckily it was weak enough that internet access kept working. After a really big quake it might make sense to move out of state until communications and electric power get restored.

I am more worried about Peak Oil than I am about the next big earthquake. Declining oil production will cost us far more than an 8.0 earthquake even if that earthquake hits a major city.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2008 April 15 11:02 PM  Dangers Natural Geological


Comments
parky said at April 16, 2008 8:18 AM:

As a northern Cal resident the news is not good, but what can you do? The good side is that it can get some long delayed urban renewal in action, lots of Gov $ will come in. Bad is that there is usually a series of significant earthquakes that follow the big one - that can cause more havoc.
Make sure your older home has some of the basic foundation and structure up grades, etc

Typically the damage is concentrated in a relatively narrow strip. The strength of an earthquake lessens in a logarthmic progression - resulting in much less damage only a few miles from the fault. California homes are typically wood & not masonry structures and as a result they may be damaged beyond repair, but usually don't collapse and cause loss of life.

Sit & wait for the ultimate in urban renewal.

averros said at April 16, 2008 1:31 PM:

> The good side is that it can get some long delayed urban renewal in action, lots of Gov $ will come in.

The bad side is that all that Gov $ is first would be taken from the people who could've spent it more productively than for erecting monuments to urban planners' egos.

Google "broken window fallacy".

Jerry Martinson said at April 16, 2008 1:33 PM:

While it is true that there are a lot of old houses with termite-rotted cripple walls that are worth a lot less than the land that they are standing on, a lot of people will die in apartment buildings and tip-ups in a major California earthquake. The numbers of deaths will be something that the United States has never seen before in its entire history. Most northern Californians mistakenly assume that the small and distant Loma Prieta earthquake (closer to Santa Cruz than it was to San Jose) was a "big one". The ground motion from that one was so weak and short-lived that most San Jose neighborhoods didn't even have a single chimney fall. The deaths from a real bay-area urban earthquake will be shocking.

Substantial portions of LA and northern California have "dingbat" style apartments (where the parking is located underneath the habitable structure) supported by flimsy pole stilts that cannot support meaningful lateral load. Strong ground motion will cause these structures to catastrophically fail in a manner that will cause massive loss of life. Thousands, perhaps 10's of thousands of people will die this way in many of the credible earthquake scenarios.

In addition, many office buildings where a large number of people work are "tip-ups" built on poorly consolidated mud. A handful of bolts connecting the the purlins to a few pilasters are the only positive tie between concrete walls and the roof that the walls hold up - and this is in "retrofitted" buildings. Strong ground motion will cause total failure of many of these buildings killing most of the people inside if an earthquake strikes during business hours. Entire companies will see 60% or more of their work force killed.

This is a hefty price to pay for urban renewal. I'm also not sure it will really "wipe" the slate clean on urban development since most of the roads/driveways/etc... will not be affected. I think it would be much better for laws to change as follows:
1. Landlords/Property holders are held clearly liable for injury and death due to seismic structural failures. The legal logic behind an earthquake being an "unforeseeable" event or "act of god" is just a cover for subsidizing negligence
2. Occupancy permits are only granted if the landlord/property holder can demonstrate credible financial responsibility (i.e. they have to have liability insurance that is verifiably solvent in a large earthquake covering death and injury). Otherwise occupancy is pulled.
3. Neighborhoods with a large portion of seismically deficient structures have eminent domain laws changed to allow for massive redevelopment not to get obstructed.

Not having land lords and property owners demonstrate financial responsibility for poorly constructed and sited buildings to me is the same as a massive public subsidy for negligent constructed properties. Hiding behind bankruptcy laws is one major way markets get distorted.

Fat Man said at April 16, 2008 2:22 PM:

California tumbles into the sea
That'll be the day I go
Back to Annandale

"My Old School" by Steely Dan

K said at April 16, 2008 4:48 PM:

California has had some big quakes in recent decades. Northridge - I lived there and was home that morning, Whittier - oddly enough I was at work there that morning, Loma Prieta(?sp) near San Francisco. And I have undoubtedly forgotten several others over the last 50 years.

The best guide to what will happen to buildings and structures in big future quakes is to look at what has happened already. Almost nothing directly on the fault will stand. Otherwise damage is widespread and deaths are usually surprisingly few. You get no guarantees.

Decade after decade lightning kills more people and floods do more damage.

TTT said at April 16, 2008 5:38 PM:

I have been hearing this rolling '30-year' number for a big quake in CA, since 1982. It has not happened in those 26 years.

Fat Man said at April 16, 2008 9:21 PM:

Earthquake "Top 10" Lists & Maps.

California has had 12 M7.+ quakes since 1900. The 1906 San Francisco quake was a M7.8. The 11 big quakes since then have been M7.1 to M7.3. Of those only Kern County 1952 and Lander 1992 caused fatalities (12 & 3 respectively). 5 of the M7.+ quakes occurred in the 1990s and one in 2005.

Of course M5s and M6s can cause fatalities. Here is a list of California quakes of .

California has had 12 M7.+ quakes since 1900. The 1906 San Francisco quake was a M7.8. The 11 big quakes since then have been M7.1 to M7.3. Of those only Kern County 1952 and Lander 1992 caused fatalities (12 & 3 respectively). 5 of the M7.+ quakes occurred in the 1990s and one in 2005.

Of course M5s and M6s can cause fatalities. Here is a list of California quakes of

# 1989 10 18 - Loma Prieta, California - M 6.9 Fatalities 63
# 1994 01 17 - Northridge, California - M 6.7 Fatalities 60
# 1971 02 09 - San Fernando, California - M 6.6 Fatalities 65
# 2003 12 22 - San Simeon, California - M 6.6 Fatalities 2
# 1987 11 24 - Superstition Hills, California - M 6.5 Fatalities 2
# 1987 10 01 - Whittier Narrows, California - M 5.9 Fatalities 8
# 1952 08 22 - Kern County, California - M 5.8 Fatalities 2
# 1991 06 28 - Sierra Madre, California - M 5.6 Fatalities 2

I think the real issue, as shown by Loma Prieta and Northridge, is how well buildings and highways are secured, not what the quake magnitude is.

California has not suffered the strongest quakes in the US. Alaska has had 2 M9s and an 8.7. The Good Friday Quake that hit Alaska in 1964 was a 9.2, almost 100 times stronger than the strong quakes of the last century in CA. That 9.2 was the 3rd strongest on record in the world exceeded only by a 9.5 that hit Chile in 1960, and the 2004 Boxing-Day Quake that caused the great tsunami in SE Asia.

philw1776 said at April 17, 2008 12:19 PM:

TTT "I have been hearing this rolling '30-year' number for a big quake in CA, since 1982. It has not happened in those 26 years."

Just like the rolling predictions for AI in 20 yrs, cancer cure in 20 years, fusion power in 30 years, peak oil this year, I mean next and other famous forecasts that in a few cases might someday be correct. The key is persistance and total lack of concern for being wrong because over long timescales few remember the predictor who was wrong.

Bill lowe said at April 20, 2008 1:25 PM:

Well maybe a good quake will reduce the Illegal Alien population in Calif. since it is turning into another Mexico cesspool of Crime, Corruption, Anti-education, Poverty and Misery!

cancer_man said at April 20, 2008 6:26 PM:

But technology coming in the next 10 to 15 years could significantly reduce deaths through better materials and maybe better warning, even if not as good as technology in 30 years.

Anonymous said at September 8, 2009 11:10 PM:

latest update news.

scientist say that Earth quick will be happen within 5 year, and going to be atleast 7.5+

around 25% of people in CA will die.

50% of house will be break down.

no more internet and the world be will end.

Libby Benson said at January 13, 2010 8:30 AM:

How will this effect states like Ohio?
In what direction will they start occuring, and where will they end?
What will this do to other states?


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