Could Wet California Winter Lead To Increase In Earthquakes?

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — Californians are accustomed to earthquakes. On Monday alone, there were over 100 small earthquakes in the state according to data from the USGS.

So could recent weather events have created an increase in seismic activity? Some scientists think it’s possible.

“When you disturb the stress environment of the earth, you could potentially cause earthquakes,” said John Rundle.

Rundle is a geology professor at UC Davis.

“It is something that we speculate about over lunch,” said Rundle with a laugh.

He says three weather-related events could cause more quakes. The first is lots of water sinking into the ground.

“Basically lubricate, if you will, the faults that are down there,” said Rundle.

And there has been plenty of water to sink in. Since Oct. 1st, nearly 30 inches of rain has fallen in the Sacramento valley, which is 189% above normal.

In the foothills, more than 6 feet of rain has fallen during the same time period, which is 212 percent above normal.

All the water must go somewhere and sometimes it takes earth with it. Rundle says a massive mudslide acres and acres in size could release tension on the plates.

“That could allow the existing tectonic forces to cause the fault to slip,” said Rundle.

And finally, the weight of large man-made bodies of water could cause shifting in the plates below. Six years after the construction of the Oroville Dam in 1965, there was a surprise 5.6 magnitude earthquake in an area not known to be active.

“That followed a period of draw down of the water and then a rapid refilling,” explained Rundle.

Rundle says most of the earthquakes that could be caused by weather events would be shallow and take years to happen.
The state is well overdue for a large-scale earthquake, but Rundle cautions it’s hard to connect the dots to determine if a major earthquake is caused by weather events.

“It would be unusual,” said Rundle.

More from Drew Bollea
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