Group Improves Earthquake Prediction Methods

Seismic forecasting, which has been known as the "Holy Grail" of earth science, may now be a reality.

Last December a major earthquake rocked the central California town of Paso Robles (search), killing two women and destroying or damaging 40 buildings. Seismologists at UCLA's Institute of Geophysics (search) saw it coming.

"In the fall, they issued the prediction and the magnitude 6.5 earthquake, a little above their threshold of 6.4, struck in December," said John Vidale, professor of geophysics at the University of California at Los Angeles.

It was the second accurate prediction for the team at UCLA. They also predicted a quake with magnitude 8.1 in Japan last September

Now the group has predicted that another big quake — a magnitude 6.4 or stronger — will hit southern California, near San Bernardino, before Sept. 5, 2004.

"The new method looks at whether there's been an increase in the number of small earthquakes," said Vidale. "It also looks at whether earthquakes are getting more clustered in space and time and it also looks at whether the general level of seismicity rises across an entire large area at once.

As the predictions are becoming more accurate, those in the emergency fields are starting to take notice.

"They're becoming closer. And this particular group with two out of two accuracy — it makes you stand up and take notice, there's no question about it," said San Bernardino Fire Chief Larry Pitzer.

However, experts say these predictions aren't precise enough to trigger evacuations or other potentially lifesaving actions.

"We aren't trying to say they're wrong, and they're definitely not crackpots. I mean, it's a scientifically fascinating process, it's just not a socially useful one," said Lucy Jones of the U.S. Geological Survey (search).

Scientists hope their warning will accomplish two goals: Remind the public to be prepared and inspire researchers to redouble their efforts to find a practical and reliable method to predict earthquakes.

Click here to watch the Fox News report by Anita Vogel.