Earthquake predictions trigger anxiety, fear in Berkeley community

Due to recent earthquake activity and predicitons, REI has seen an increase in sales of emergency supplies.
Faith Buchanan/Staff
Due to recent earthquake activity and predicitons, REI has seen an increase in sales of emergency supplies.

As earthquakes continue to shake Berkeley and residents become increasingly anxious, fears have been intensified by several unverified predictions of an imminent major quake that have been circulating online.

Over the last few days, site owner Luke Thomas, who is not associated with the U.S. Geological Survey, has been posting predictions — which he said in an email are based on kinetic frictional heating, the seismic gap theory and electromagnetic radiation — on his website and Twitter account, claiming that an earthquake of at least magnitude 5.0 will likely hit in the Berkeley, Mill Valley and San Carlos area by around 11 a.m. Tuesday.

Though it is unclear whether Thomas has any credentials in seismology or related fields, his predictions have elicited a strong reaction in the Berkeley community.

“I don’t feel very prepared,” said UC Berkeley sophomore Rachel Thurman. “(The warnings) make me nervous, and I think not many people would know what to do in a natural disaster or emergency situation.”

Thomas’s tweets about his predictions have been retweeted by hundreds of people in the past week.

To add to the hysteria, San Francisco State University Professor Genie Stowers sent an email Friday claiming that Berkeley City Hall had been briefed by U.S.G.S. geologists on a possible magnitude-6.0 quake in the next two to three weeks. According to city officials who said they heard nothing of the sort, the information in the email — which has since gone viral — was false.

“There has been no briefing of the City Council or staff on when the next earthquake is going to be,” said Berkeley City Councilmember Kriss Worthington.

Deputy City Manager Christine Daniel sent an email to community members Monday to dispel the rumors, as alarmed residents have been making phone calls and sending emails to their council members. The misinformation was discovered to be an exaggeration on the part of Stowers, who said in a follow-up email Monday that her only intent was to pass on a message about the importance of being prepared.

“Modern technology is really fast at spreading news, and an explosive story that a major earthquake is going to happen in the next couple of weeks is really scary and alarming to people,” Worthington said.

David Schwartz, senior earthquake geologist at U.S.G.S., encouraged people to be prepared but warned against the danger of making exaggerated assumptions.

“Anyone has the ability to go online and make some prediction,” he said, calling the recent online rumors largely baseless.

Access to the Internet has increased the ease of spreading information but made it harder to know whether that information is reliable, according to Peggy Hellweg, associate research seismologist and operations manager at the UC Berkeley Seismological Laboratory. Hellweg said there is no definite way to predict earthquakes.

“Yes, the probability that there will be an earthquake along the (Hayward) fault is pretty big,” she said. “But in all likelihood, it will be small.”

Nonetheless, in light of these unverified predictions coupled with the recent series of earthquakes in Berkeley, residents are still preparing themselves for the possibility of the “Big One.”

At the REI store in West Berkeley, sales for emergency supplies have risen since Oct. 20, when a magnitude-4.0 quake hit Berkeley, according to head cashier Doug Morse.

“People are buying propane gas, dehydrated camping foods that’ll last a while, emergency blankets that insulate you from the elements,” Morse said. “They’re buying basic supplies like food and shelter, emergency radios and hand-cranked flashlights that don’t require batteries.”

He added that large water containers, first aid supplies and emergency kits — premade bundles of food and basic necessities — have been increasingly popular.

“Whenever there’s a jolt like the big 4.0 one that we had, we have a big increase in sales the day after,” Morse said. “Everyone comes in. It happens all the time.”

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  • Fear This

    There is more sensationalism than real science going on here. Largely a waste of government money spent on sloppy soft science.Luke Thomas is not any more goofy that the ivory tower, self absorbed twits at the Berkeley Seismology Laboratory.

  • reianne


  • Kierkegaard

    The press is the source of most anxiety, as far as anyone really believes that people are running around all scared.  This article is a bad bluff. Hysteria and intensified fears exist only in the mind of a journalist who wishes it were true, who wishes there was something to report. A 4.0 is a free foot massage. Do yourself a favor and don’t read The Daily Californian.

  • Some person

    “whenever there’s a jolt like the big 4.0 …. everyone comes in …. It happens all the time.”

    Actually, no, a quake swarm like this doesn’t “happen all the time.”

    As for the quake prediction hitting Berkeley, Mill Valley AND San Carlos at the same time, that doesn’t even make sense since these cities are on completely different fault zones.

  • guest

    don’t you think, rather, its all the little shocks in berkeley right now that are triggering fear in the community than one viral email?

  • 96430

    There will be a San Francisco earthquake soon. 11/3/11, 11/6/11, or 11/11/11. A sneaky way to get rid of protesters.

  • Joan

    Yes, please don’t believe those predictions, but no matter what we should be prepared for a earthquake, or any kind of disaster. 

  • wait  a minute, Luke’s charts did pick the Sendai (Japanese Tsunami producing) quake…

  • Not smarter than Mother Nature

    Luke Thomas, who owns, has no real basis for his predictions. He has only started predicting the Berkeley area AFTER the 4.0 hit. He has no positive track record of the predictions that he has made. I have visited his facebook site only a couple times, and each of those times he predicted and 8.3 for the Salton Sea area….give me a break!!! That’s not possible. When that large earthquake never hit, I blocked him so that  wouldn’t be tempted to fall into all this hysteria that the San Franciscans are headed into.

    ***People….Earthquakes CANNOT be predicted!!! It’s that simple. Everyone should ALWAYS be prepared because you never know when one will hit! Don’t listen to all these fools saying they “know” and guarantee the “Big One.” THEY DON’T KNOW!!!!

  • Jarod

    please stop the cern testing, smashing the God particle perhaps you are, essentially killing God(the earth) if your working on quantum physics and string theory , you are smashing the twin image or mirror image!!! I know, you just can’t help yourself. But you are being pulled along like a bull with a ring in its nose to your own demise hahahahaha

  • I usually pay attention to Dutchsince’s website. Seems to be much more accurate than the rest with not only Earthquakes, but also volcanoes, and severe weather alerts.

    • Cboy

      There is definitely something going on with HAARP.  They are playing with some seriously powerful sh1t up in alaska…

  • Some person

    And what is Genie Morse – a professor of public administration, not of geology or anything remotely related to earthquakes – doing spreading unsubstantiated, scare-mongering rumors? Shame on her. Very unprofessional.

  • Some person

    Please, please, PLEASE ignore Luke Thomas and his website. There is no proven way to predict earthquakes. Even the world’s smartest seismologist can’t predict earthquakes. Luke Thomas doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Please don’t get nervous or panic based on what he says. I’m disappointed in the Daily Cal for even paying attention to his nonsense. You’re supposed to report news, not pseudo-science.

    • Friendofgaia

      I would say please, PLEASE pay attention to Luke Thomas (he’s not the only one who has predicted this btw…..’they’ don’t like public panic and would never disclose the truth).  
      Use your intuition, avoid fear but always know where the exit is in any situation.

      • CA_Love

        So, avoid fear, but be aware that tragedy is imminent? Derp :/