Is There Such A Thing As Earthquake Weather? | KALW

Is There Such A Thing As Earthquake Weather?

Jan 16, 2020

Hey Area is where we find answers to questions you ask. Ben Harney wanted to know why is it called earthquake weather?

Most people can tell when a big rainstorm or tornado is coming. You can just step outside and sense its imminence. But as we know, an earthquake gives us no such opportunity. However, if you live in the Bay Area, you’ve probably heard the term earthquake weather. 

But research geophysicist Brad Aagard from the United States Geological Survey Center says there’s no such thing. It’s just a common myth that earthquakes occur in certain weather. 

On October 17, 1989, the Bay Area was rocked by the 7.1 Loma Prieta quake. The high temperature that day was in the eighties and there was no wind to speak of; weather that many consider to be earthquake weather. But it was probably a coincidence. 

Aagard says that large earthquakes are relatively rare so when we do have one, people often associate the weather that day with the earthquake. But it can be a coincidence that someone feels two earthquakes during similar weather. 

The Loma Prieta quake may have cemented the term in the Bay Area, but the idea of earthquake weather has been around a long time. Since the time of Aristotle, in fact, who thought that winds trapped in caves triggered them. 

In fact, it wasn’t until the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco that geologists learned of the correlation between faults in the earth and the lateral offset on those faults that radiates the seismic waves that create the shaking we feel. 

So why do we still use the term earthquake weather? Maybe that sense of predictability that we give ourselves, even if it’s false, brings us a small bit of comfort. 

Regardless, since earthquakes can happen any time, in any temperature, rain or shine, be prepared. No matter the weather.