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. 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 3 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 1-3 of the predicted elements is wildly different than what occurred, 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 may 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 may be made in probabilistic terms. To learn what a probability is and how they work, see the FAQ under Seismic HazardsMaps, Probabilities, and EQ Engineering - 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, usually no large earthquake follows this type of seismic activity, and, unfortunately, many earthquakes are preceded by no precursory events whatsoever. The next large Chinese event was entirely unheralded and scores of thousands of Chinese 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)?

There is no scientific explanation for the symptoms some people claim to have preceding an earthquake, and more often than not there is no earthquake following the symptoms.

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 fiction 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...

Is there earthquake weather?

In the 4th Century B.C., Aristotle proposed that earthquakes were caused by winds trapped in subterranean caves. Small tremors were thought to have been caused by air pushing on the cavern roofs, and large ones by the air breaking the surface. This theory lead to a belief in earthquake weather, that because a large amount of air was trapped...

Can animals predict earthquakes?

The earliest reference we have to unusual animal behavior prior to a significant earthquake is from Greece in 373 BC. Rats, weasels, snakes, and centipedes reportedly left their homes and headed for safety several days before a destructive earthquake. Anecdotal evidence abounds of animals, fish, birds, reptiles, and insects exhibiting strange...

Why are we having so many earthquakes? Has naturally occurring earthquake activity been increasing? Does this mean a big one is going to hit? OR We haven't had any earthquakes in a long time; does this mean that the pressure is building up for a big one?

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Can "MegaQuakes" really happen? Like a magnitude 10 or larger?

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...

Are earthquakes associated with variations in the geomagnetic field?

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New Audiences, New Products for the National Seismic Hazard Maps

New Audiences, New Products for the National Seismic Hazard Maps

Date published: April 27, 2011

Media Advisory: "Predictable Earthquakes"

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.

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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?
...
USGS map displaying potential to experience damage from a natural or human-induced earthquake in 2017
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.

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
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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?
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Image shows an aerial view of the San Andreas Fault
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

Image shows a road split due to earthquake damage
November 30, 2000

1964 Alaskan Earthquake Damage

Damage from the 1964 Alaskan Earthquake. Credit: USGS

Interactive Quarternary Fault Database

Interactive Quarternary Fault Database

This database contains information on faults and associated folds in the United States that demonstrate geological evidence of coseismic surface deformation in large earthquakes during the Quaternary (the past 1.6 million years).