SoCal on heightened earthquake alert

The latest alert was issued after 142 temblors hit starting Monday near Bombay Beach

The California quake reminds Portland State University Geologist Scott Burns that an earthquake of that magnitude or higher could just have easily have struck Portland. (KOIN 6)
The California quake reminds Portland State University Geologist Scott Burns that an earthquake of that magnitude or higher could just have easily have struck Portland. (KOIN 6)

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) – Southern California residents should remain on heightened alert until Tuesday for the increased possibility of a major earthquake, officials said.

The warning by the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services follows a series of small temblors deep under the Salton Sea, which is located on the 800-mile-long San Andreas fault, the Orange County Register reported Saturday.

Such warnings are typically issued once or twice a year, said Kelly Huston, the deputy director of crisis communications for the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.

The latest alert was issued after 142 temblors hit starting Monday near Bombay Beach at the southern end of the fault. Those quakes ranged from a magnitude of 1.4 to 4.3, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

Scientists estimate the probability of a quake with a magnitude of 7.0 or higher on the southern San Andreas fault being triggered is as high as 1 in 100 and as low as 1 in 3,000. The average chance for such an earthquake striking on any given week is 1 in 6,000. That heightened probability will last through Tuesday.

Earthquakes along the San Andreas typically occur every 300 years, said Morgan Page, a geophysicist with the USGS. Earthquake Science Center, but the southernmost end of the fault hasn’t ruptured since 1690.

“There is significant stress stored on the southern end,” Page said.

Jerry Brown
In this Wednesday May 27, 2015 file photo, California Gov. Jerry Brown addresses a conference in Sacramento,  (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday signed legislation to develop a statewide warning system to inform Californians of impending earthquakes through their cellphones, radios and other devices.

“California is earthquake country,” said Mark Ghilarducci, the director of the state’s Office of Emergency Services. “We must always be prepared and not let our guard down.”

Dr. Scott Burns, a geologist with Portland State University, said the alerts mark some of the first examples of earthquake prediction.

“With landslides, and floods and volcanoes, the last one that we are able to predict are earthquakes,” he said.

PSU Professor Scott Burns, April 7, 2014 (KOIN 6 News)
PSU Professor Scott Burns, April 7, 2014 (KOIN 6 News)

In the Northwest, the major threat is The Big One, a potential 9.2 earthquake along the Cascadia Subduction Zone. Dr. Burns says right now geologists aren’t capable of forecasting The Big One the way the can forecast a major earthquake in southern California because the Cascadia Subduction Zone hasn’t been studied as extensively as the San Andreas fault has.

Dr. Burns did specify that science of earthquake prediction is improving daily, and is staggeringly ahead of where it was in the early 1990s.

“I’ve seen, just in the last year, a great increase in the response,” he said. “As the awareness continues, more and more people are becoming prepared and that excites me that we are getting to that stage.”

Oregon, Burns said, is developing an app that will send warnings about imminent earthquakes to those with the app. It will be available in about a year.
KOIN 6 News reporter Trevor Ault contributed to this report.