Earthquake Prediction?

Instapundit says that it could be very useful.

Well, maybe. But only if it’s reasonably reliable, in terms of time, location and intensity. For instance, if we can’t do any better with it than we do with hurricanes, I’d prefer not to know. I spent/wasted a lot of time and hassle getting ready for hurricanes in Florida that ended up not hitting us, or not being a big deal. I’m convinced that false hurricane prep is almost as economically damaging as the hurricanes themselves. I’ve never had to worry about that in earthquake country — it’s always “come as you are,” and you should always be ready.

[Update a few minutes later]

I should note that I am actually increasingly impressed with their ability to predict storm tracks, a capability that seems to have improved quite a bit over the past decade, and is likely to continue to do so. The biggest uncertainty now seems to be in intensity, and I hope that they get a lot better at that as well. The more confidence we can have where and when it will and won’t hit, and how strong it will be when it does, the better we’ll be able to fine tune the preparedness. My concern with earthquake prediction is that we’re about where we were with hurricanes in the nineteenth century, and early attempts may be worse than useless in needless societal disruption. Imagine the traffic jams out of LA or SF to avoid a predicted “big one” that ends up not happening.

10 thoughts on “Earthquake Prediction?”

  1. Rand, I’m surprised at you. Those hurricane predictions were based on satellite observations, spotter aircraft, and computer models. I have it on good authority that computer models alone are good enough to predict the Earth’s climate for decades in the future. [/sarc]

  2. The only hurricane prep we ever did when I was a kid was make sure we had a drawer full of candles and batteries. Of course, the candles were old and half-melted, the batteries often expired. My dad was pretty laissez-faire when it came to… well anything, basically. Nothing bad ever happened to our house in a hurricane either even though we had an old 20s house just across US 1 from Coconut Grove, and a huge tree in the front yard.

  3. On the other hand, as a former Angelino who has experienced several big shakes and who knows two people whose homes were severely damaged in the Northridge quake, I think even a forecast like “ten percent chance of a 6.0 to 7.5 quake in the next thirty days” would be beneficial. I doubt that many people would flee the city on that sort of warning, but as a reminder to secure bookshelves to walls, to know where the gas line shutoff valve is, and to have a family evacuation plan, receiving plausible predictions that occasionally come true would be very useful.

    If I still lived in Southern California, the biggest effect a prediction like that would have on me would be to alter my driving habits. I’d make a point of avoiding bridges and elevated freeway overpasses, whether it made rational sense to do so or not.

    L.A.-town is falling down
    While the ground
    Moves around,
    We won’t let it get us down —
    We’re Californians!

  4. I am not convinced with regards to increasing accuracy of hurricane storm tracking. The images I see generally include perhaps 20 different paths, many of which are substantially different from the others, and when the hurricane follows one of them then you are looking at a 5 per cent success rate.

    Admittedly, perhaps the real success is in narrowing down the path of the hurricane to as low as 20 options.

    I confess that I have a real disdain for TV weathermen, who in my opinion consume 4-5 minutes of valuable airtime during a newscast that could be better spent covering sports. Rather than do the real work of a meteorologist, the overwhelming majority of weather talking heads subscribe to Accu-Weather and regurgitate whatever Accu-Weather tells them. The best exception to this rule was Dr. Neil Frank in Houston, who prior to being the weatherman there was the head of the hurricane center in Miami. That guy was brilliant.

  5. Imagine the traffic jams out of LA or SF to avoid a predicted “big one” that ends up not happening.

    No need to imagine. I was in Houston for Hurricana Rita. Actually, I drove against the traffic from Dallas to Houston via SH 19 and US 59. What I found was many abandoned vehicles on US 59 near Houston. They had run out of gas and been left in place. Sadly, while Hurricane Rita pretty much missed Houston, it did hit most of the US 59 corridor where many people were stranded in hotels.

  6. I wonder what the ability to issue plausible-but-iffy earthquake predictions would do to the insurance market?

    Would it be like health insurance, where people with “pre-existing conditions” could only get insurance at exorbitant rates after a “diagnosis”? Would people tend to buy earthquake insurance only if they received a prediction, disastrously distorting the actuarial tables? Or would it be a good thing for the insurance industry, since many more people would buy insurance after a warning, and then if the predicted quake never happened they wouldn’t bother to cancel it?

  7. I grew up in LA. Every time there was an earthquake, all the dogs in the neighborhood would suddenly begin to bark a few minutes before the shaking would begin.

  8. Here’s an animal/hurricane story: according to workers at the Miami Metrozoo, during preparations against Hurricane Andrew they didn’t know what to do with the flamingoes — apparently there was no place to put them. Then they observed, as the clouds gathered and winds rose, that all the flamingoes had gone and laid themselves flat out on the ground. Now you know how flamingoes endure hurricanes.

  9. I noticed about 5 years ago that some of the Weather Channel peeps were talking about eye-wall replacement suddenly. Before that it seemed like a thumb-in-the-wind, mountains = weaker, warm water = stronger response. Thanks almost exclusively to aerospace – better satellites (some of them funded by the climate research hysteria fund), and storm chaser flights – we are getting a better handle on causal mechanisms, rather than probabilistic analyses.

Comments are closed.