California Earthquake Prediction: San Andreas Fault Line 'Ready To Go'

John Houck

One scientist recently made an ominous California earthquake prediction. Earthquake specialist Thomas Jordan said at the National Earthquake Conference in Long Beach, California, that the San Andreas fault is "locked, loaded, and ready to roll," and a massive earthquake could strike anytime.

California's longest and most dangerous fault line is San Andreas. However, it has been a while since a large earthquake has struck the southern San Andreas.

The last time any major movement was recorded was in 1857. A 7.9-magnitude quake with an epicenter near Fort Tejon shook the ground for 185 miles between Monterey County and the San Gabriel Mountains outside Los Angeles.

"The springs on the San Andreas system have been wound very, very tight. And the southern San Andreas fault, in particular, looks like it's locked, loaded and ready to go."

The San Andreas fault line runs 810 miles across California. It is the boundary between the North American and the Pacific tectonic plates.

Scientists have a prediction that a major California earthquake is looming. They have noticed the northwest movement of the Pacific plate along the North American plate and earthquakes should be relieving stress every 100 years. Yet, some parts of the San Andreas have not moved in quite some time, leading scientists to believe a big one is coming.

In San Bernardino County near the Cajon Pass, the fault line has not moved in over 200 years. Meanwhile, even further south toward the Salton Sea, the earth has been silent since the 1680s.

Jordan thinks a magnitude 8.0 quake is a significant possibility. A U.S. Geological Survey report published in 2008 predicted a 7.8-magnitude earthquake along the southern portion of the fault line would cause over 1,800 deaths, 50,000 injuries, and $200 billion in property damage. It also indicated considerable, long-lasting problems, including a complete breakdown of the sewer system.

An earthquake of that magnitude would most likely shake the ground for at least two minutes and be the strongest in the Coachella Valley, Inland Empire, and Antelope Valley. Other areas like the San Gabriel Valley and East Los Angeles would also feel the impact.

While the San Andreas fault line is roughly 30 miles from downtown Los Angeles, the city would experience heavy ground movement by any large earthquake. According to a computer simulation, Jordan predicts a 7.8 magnitude earthquake near the Salton Sea would send seismic waves toward Los Angeles, even affecting cities as far away as San Diego.

"You'll notice large shaking in the Los Angeles region persisting for long periods of time," he said.

The 1857 California earthquake was so powerful that the soil liquefied and trees sunk into the ground. Witness accounts say the ground shook anywhere between one and three minutes. At that time, the area was significantly less populated than now, so the quake only claimed two lives.

Predictions and rumors about the next "big one" have been circulating for years. After several small tremors vibrated the Bay Area in 2015, geophysicist Thomas Brocher said a large earthquake is expected "any day now."

A Seismological Society of America bulletin published in 2014 said four faults in the region are on the move along the surface, triggering the possibility of a much larger earthquake. Another report by the Seismological Laboratory warned the "clock is ticking."

While Jordan's dire prediction may or may not come true, California earthquakes have occurred in recent times. The Northridge quake in 1994 cost $42 billion in damages, yet that major movement did not occur along the San Andreas fault line.

[Photo by David Paul Morris/Getty Images]