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No, you can’t predict an earthquake

Social media rumors about predicted earthquakes are being shot down by public safety officials.

The entrance to Silver Crest Elementary School in Herriman is pictured after a 5.7 magnitude earthquake centered in Magna hit early on Wednesday, March 18, 2020.
The entrance to Silver Crest Elementary School in Herriman is pictured after a 5.7 magnitude earthquake centered in Magna hit early on Wednesday, March 18, 2020.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

A strong earthquake rattled Utah Wednesday morning, creating widespread damage and worry online.

  • The 5.7 magnitude quake happened from an epicenter north of Magna. There were more than two dozen aftershocks that ranged from 2.5 to 3.9 magnitude. Another 4.4 magnitude aftershock came at 8:02 a.m, according to the Deseret News.
  • In total, 20 aftershocks came after the first hour and 26 after the first two hours.

Rumors of another earthquake start online

  • Rumors popped up online about a secondary quake striking, as the Deseret News reported.
  • The Utah Emergency Management Twitter account asked for the rumor to stop.
  • The account said: “There are rumors out there that earthquakes can be predicted. They cannot be predicted, however, we expect that the earthquake we felt today was the largest one of the sequence. That is true in 95% of earthquakes.”
  • The Utah Department of Natural Resources said the rumor is false, too.
  • Utah DNR tweeted: “The rumor of an imminent larger earthquake is incorrect. While anything is possible, it’s unlikely. Our experts, along with experts from @USGS, indicate the probability of another 5.0 magnitude earthquake in the next week is relatively low. #utquake”
  • Keith Koper, a U. geophysics professor, told the Deseret News a second earthquake was unlikely.
  • “It is not imminent that there is another large earthquake to come. Do not expect a much larger earthquake. Do not expected a magnitude 7.”
  • He added: “But the fact is, we can’t and we don’t predict earthquakes.”

Why you can’t predict earthquakes

  • It’s nearly impossible for scientists to predict an earthquake mostly due to the science, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
  • The USGS said: “We do not know how, and we do not expect to know how any time in the foreseeable future. USGS scientists can only calculate the probability that a significant earthquake will occur in a specific area within a certain number of years.”
  • Some suggest they can predict earthquakes. According to the USGS, there are three main reasons things you need for a prediction: date and time, location and magnitude.
  • Predicting all three is nearly impossible, according to the USGS:

“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.

“They do not define all 3 of the elements required for a prediction.

“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 from what occurred, therefore a failed prediction.”