Can you predict earthquakes?

No. Neither the USGS nor any other scientists have ever predicted a major earthquake. We do not know how, and we do not expect to know how any time in the foreseeable future. USGS scientists can only calculate the probability that a significant earthquake will occur in a specific area within a certain number of years.

An earthquake prediction must define 3 elements: 1) the date and time, 2) the location, and 3) the magnitude.

Yes, some people say they can predict earthquakes, but here are the reasons why their statements are false:

1. They are not based on scientific evidence, and earthquakes are part of a scientific process. For example, earthquakes have nothing to do with clouds, bodily aches and pains, or slugs.
2. They do not define all three of the elements required for a prediction.
3. Their predictions are so general that there will always be an earthquake that fits; such as, (a) There will be a M4 earthquake somewhere in the U.S. in the next 30 days. (b) There will be a M2 earthquake on the west coast of the U.S. today.

If an earthquake happens to occur that remotely fits their prediction, they claim success even though one or more of their predicted elements is wildly different from what actually occurred, so it is therefore a failed prediction.

Predictions (by non-scientists) usually start swirling around social media when something happens that is thought to be a precursor to an earthquake in the near future. The so-called precursor is often a swarm of small earthquakes, increasing amounts of radon in local water, unusual behavior of animals, increasing size of magnitudes in moderate size events, or a moderate-magnitude event rare enough to suggest that it might be a foreshock.

Unfortunately, most such precursors frequently occur without being followed by an earthquake, so a real prediction is not possible. Instead, if there is a scientific basis, a forecast might be made in probabilistic terms. See: Are earthquake probabilities or forecasts the same as prediction?

An earthquake forecast was made in China several decades ago based on small earthquakes and unusual animal activity. Many people chose to sleep outside of their homes and thus were spared when the main earthquake indeed occurred and caused widespread destruction.  However, this type of seismic activity is rarely followed by a large earthquake and, unfortunately, most earthquakes have no precursory events whatsoever. The next large earthquake in China had no precursors and thousands of people died.

The USGS focuses its efforts on the long-term mitigation of earthquake hazards by helping to improve the safety of structures, rather than by trying to accomplish short-term predictions.

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Do solar flares or magnetic storms (space weather) cause earthquakes?

Solar flares and magnetic storms belong to a set of phenomena known collectively as "space weather". Technological systems and the activities of modern civilization can be affected by changing space-weather conditions. However, it has never been demonstrated that there is a causal relationship between space weather and earthquakes. Indeed, over...

Can some people sense that an earthquake is about to happen (earthquake sensitives)?

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Can the ground open up during an earthquake?

Shallow crevasses can form during earthquake-induced landslides , lateral spreads , or from other types of ground failures , but faults do not open up during an earthquake. An earthquake occurs when two blocks of the earth’s crust slide past one another after having been stuck together in one place for a long time, because of friction on the fault...

Will California eventually fall into the ocean?

No, California is not going to fall into the ocean. California is firmly planted on the top of the earth’s crust in a location where it spans two tectonic plates. The San Andreas Fault System, which crosses California from the Salton Sea in the south to Cape Mendocino in the north, is the boundary between the Pacific Plate (that includes the...

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Can animals predict earthquakes?

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No, earthquakes of magnitude 10 or larger cannot happen. The magnitude of an earthquake is related to the length of the fault on which it occurs. That is, the longer the fault, the larger the earthquake. A fault is a break in the rocks that make up the Earth's crust, along which rocks on either side have moved past each other. No fault long enough...

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Date published: June 26, 2014

New Audiences, New Products for the National Seismic Hazard Maps

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Date published: April 27, 2011

Throughout California April is recognized as Earthquake Preparedness Month. This Thursday's lecture, "Predictable Earthquakes", will provide an update on the current ability of scientists to predict potentially destructive earthquakes and to separate fact from fiction from this intriguing topic.

Filter Total Items: 9
January 25, 2018

PubTalk 1/2018 — ShakeAlert: Path to West Coast EQ Early Warning

Title: ShakeAlert: The Path to West Coast Earthquake Early Warning ... how a few seconds can save lives and property

• The ShakeAlert earthquake early warning system will begin limited operations this year.
• Alerts could save lives and properties but several challenges remain.
• With millions at risk, why isn't full public alerting happening yet?
February 24, 2017

USGS Forecast for Damage from Natural and Induced Earthquakes in 2017

USGS map displaying potential to experience damage from a natural or human-induced earthquake in 2017. Chances range from less than one percent to 12 percent.

June 5, 2016

Fairweather fault lidar

Fairweather fault lidar

April 19, 2016

May 21, 2015

PubTalk 5/2015 — Breaking Badly:Forecasting California Earthquakes

by Morgan Page, USGS Research Geophysicist

• Scientists cannot currently predict the precise time, location, and size of future damaging earthquakes.
• Historical records of earthquakes in California date back over 150 years.
• Geologists have dug trenches to extend the known history on some faults back to around 1,000 years before
April 28, 2011

PubTalk 4/2011 — "Predictable Earthquakes"

--updating earthquake prediction--fact vs. fiction

by Susan Hough, USGS Seismologist

• Although scientists were optimistic about earthquake prediction in the 1970s, reliable short-term prediction has remained an elusive goal
• What have seismologists learned from recent earthquakes in Haiti, Chile, and Japan?
November 30, 2000

San-Andreas Fault

Aerial photo of the San Andreas Fault in the Carrizo Plain. By Ikluft - Own work, GFDL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3106006

November 30, 2000