Can the National Seismic Hazard Maps be used as an earthquake forecast tool for the near future?

Not really. This web site is designed to display the probability of different sources that might occur in a several-year to several-decade period. The model bases all probability estimates on mean rate of earthquakes over long periods. As you shorten the time window, you should expect greater and greater fluctuations in what may be observed from the mean behavior that would be observed if you had a thousand year time span at your disposal.

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What is a seismic zone, or seismic hazard zone?

Although you may hear the terms “seismic zone” and “seismic hazard zone” used interchangeably, they really describe two slightly different things. A seismic zone is used to describe an area where earthquakes tend to focus; for example, the New Madrid Seismic Zone in the Central United States. A seismic hazard zone describes an area with a...