Monday, March 17, 2014

Did You Feel It? A 4.4 Earthquake Shakes L.A.

ENCINO - The largest earthquake to occur within the city of Los Angeles since the aftermath of the 1994 Northridge Earthquake shook the city and much of Southern California at 6:25 a.m. Monday when a magnitude 4.4 earthquake struck in the Santa Monica Mountains in the Sepulveda Pass.

The United States Geological Survey put the epicenter about two miles south-southeast of Encino. USGS officials at the California Institution of Technology, or as most of us know it, Caltech, say this is the strongest earthquake to occur in the Santa Monica Mountains on record, which only go back to 80 years when earthquakes were first recorded in that area. 

There have been some small aftershocks, mostly micro-quakes, which is to be expected. Caltech says Monday's earthquake is following the typical pattern of Southern California earthquakes with the mainshock and aftershocks.

As would be expected there was no serious damage, but there was some light property damage with items falling off shelves. There have been no reports of any injuries. Typically when you get into the magnitude 5 range that is when you start seeing serious property damage, like windows shattering and larger items being thrown about. Also older structures tend to sustain damage, sometimes serious damage, particularly with a quake in the upper M5 range. When you get into the magnitude 6 range with a quake that occurs under an urban area that is when you begin to see serious structural damage, even in a place like Southern California.

So far, as of this writing, no earthquake fault has been assigned to this earthquake. Earlier on Monday seismologists suggested this quake could be on an unknown fault in the Santa Monica Mountains. There are several fault lines near the epicenter of this quake, including the Santa Monica Fault.

In the first five-to-six hours after the M4.4 quake there is a five-percent chance of a larger earthquake occurring. That goes down to about one-percent of a larger quake occurring within the next three days. Historically a larger earthquake happening after a smaller jolt has been rare in Southern California.

Prior to Monday's earthquake the last large earthquake to occur within the the city of L.A. was on September 9, 2001 when a magnitude 4.2 hit near West Hollywood, which USGS believes was on the Newport-Inglewood Fault. 

The last significant earthquake in the L.A. basin was on May 17, 2009 when a M4.7 quake struck in Inglewood causing minor property damage. Seismologists believe this quake is consistent with slip on the Newport-Inglewood Fault.  

The last magnitude 5+ earthquake in the L.A. metro area was the 2008 M5.5 Chino Hills Earthquake.

Seismologists have described L.A. and Southern California as being in an "earthquake drought," where typically the L.A. area should have on average a M4+ once a year. Caltech says they will have to wait many months to see if this is the beginning of Southern California coming out of its "earthquake drought."

In the last year and a half there have been a series of minor jolts in the Marina Del Rey area. USGS officials at Caltech are not sure if Monday's earthquake and those quakes are related. Seismologists say quake clusters are not typical for Southern California. Again, officials stress, there is no telling what those Marina Del Rey quakes may mean, if anything.

It is worth noting that on March 9 there was a M6.8 earthquake off the Northern California coast about 50 miles west of Eureka. That quake, however, is much to far away to be associated with Monday's quake.

Around social media, and on television, some people have been suggesting, or outright claiming, this morning's earthquake was caused by the full moon or it is "earthquake weather." Many studies conducted by USGS and other agencies around the world have shown and proven many times over there is no such thing as earthquake weather. Furthermore those same agencies have shown there has been no correlation and causation between full moons and earthquakes.

Bottom line, there is no way to predict earthquakes at this time. The only earthquakes that can be predicted are aftershocks, and USGS officials believe there will be small aftershocks in the next few days from this Encino earthquake. 

All you can do is be prepared.

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