Mongolia, China, 2003, Strange Pre-Earthquake Occurrences
A 2003 story in the China Daily relates some strange occurrences just prior to a large earthquake that hit Chifeng, a city in Mongolia. Villagers reported that they saw water spurt more than six feet into the air from a river bed that had been dry for many years.
Cellphone signals were reportedly knocked out for up till 10 hours prior to the quake in an area about 90 miles from the epicenter. Experts speculated the cause may have been interference from “abnormal terrestrial magnetic waves.”
According to a villager in the region, two of his pigs were very anxious in the days prior to the earthquake and attempted to escape. Another villager recalled that she saw flocks of sparrows and swallows flying haphazardly, unable to navigate properly as they flew into walls and other obstacles.
Great Sichuan Earthquake, aka Wenchuan Earthquake
The names given to the terrible 8.0 quake that struck in the Sichuan Province of China on May, 12, 2008, killing over 87,000 people.
Below is a YouTube video that captures spectral clouds floating like jellyfish above rooftops prior to the massive earthquake. It’s still not clear what caused this meteorological aberration. An article on New Scientist’s web site lists several controversial theories that may explain it:
1. The possibility of electrical disturbances in the atmosphere preceding earthquakes;
2. forces acting on rocks prior to earthquakes may create electrical currents;
3. tjese, in turn, may release quantities of radon or change surface temperatures, perhaps interfering with terrestrial magnetic fields.
According to an article posted on MSNBC.com days after the Sichuan quake, online chat rooms in China were filled with stories about bizarre observations in the lead up to the tragedy.
There was a story how thousands of cubic meters of water vanished from a pond. A page on http://current.com/1h7l44c offers a picture of it:
There’s another story about legions of toads filling the streets of Mianzhu, a city where more than 2,000 people were subsequently killed in the Sichuan quake. A local forestry official later described the toads as normal occurrence, a picture of which http://current.com/1h7l44c provides here:
Chinese newspapers reported that zoo animals started behaving strangely in the days prior to the great quake. Zebras inexplicably butted heads. A couple of elephants almost hurt a zoo worker as they wildly swung their trunks. Peacocks screeched just minutes before the quake finally struck.
Can Animals Really Sense Earthquakes Before They Happen?
For as long as humans have known about earthquakes the question whether animals can predict them has probably been asked. The National Geographic published an article in 2003, “Can Animals Sense Earthquakes?,” that relates an interesting historical anecdote how, in 373 B.C., “animals, including rats, snakes and weasels, deserted the Greek city of Helice in droves just days before a quake devastated the place.” But even today many people, particularly, Asia, one of the most earthquake prone areas of the world, believe that animals have a natural ability to anticipate earthquakes. The same article goes on to recount how Chinese officials in 1975 evacuated Haicheng, a city of one million, based on observations of strange animal behavior. Days later, a 7.3 magnitude quake hit. Casualties were few due to the preparations, without which death toll estimates topped 150,000.
Yet, the USGS on its Common Myths about Earthquakes FAQ, dismisses the possibility of animal prescience as “anecdotal evidence,” apparently not worthy of further Western scientific research, since most “scientists pursuing this mystery are in China or Japan.” It’d be interesting to know why the esteemed Survey believes 2,400 years of anecdotes aren’t worth scientific follow-up. To be fair, however, it should be noted that animals may not be able to anticipate all earthquakes, presumably those not accompanied by minor foreshocks, however imperceptible to humans they may be. Yet the tens of thousands who died in the Sichuan quake of 2008 might have appreciated it if authorities had paid a little more attention to the thousands of toads that mysteriously headed for safer terrain just before the ground started shaking.
Geologist Jim Berkland’s Method of Predicting Earthquakes
Jim Berkland uses an unorthodox method to predict when earthquakes occur: missing pet advertisements in the lost and found sections of newspapers. In the video provided below, he claims his studies show a high correlation between increases in lost pet ads just prior to major earthquake strikes in the areas where the pets live. His famous warning to a California newspaper about a potential World Series earthquake days before it happened in 1989 was, he claims, based on this method. It was a confluence of abnormal data that led to his conviction a major quake was imminent: missing dogs listings spiked; reports of beached whales and homing pigeons losing their way. All of this coincided with the highest tidal force in 3 years. Berkland phoned the newspaper on October 13, just 4 days before the Loma Prieta earthquake, also known as the Quake of ’89 and the World Series Earthquake, struck on October 17, 1989, at 5:04 p.m., moments before the beginning of Game 3 between the Oakland Athletics and the San Francisco Giants.
Earthquake weather is often described as a hot, dry, dead calm that is supposed to precede or even cause earthquakes. Some people have modified it to describe gray, gloomy and humid conditions. The idea of earthquake weather is often popular in regions, like California, that are prone to a lot of seismic activity. The urban legend is so widespread in the Golden State that the Department of Conservation has a web page titled “Earthquake Myths” that specifically addresses this subject, reminding people that it’s only a misconception as earthquakes “take place miles underground, and can happen at any time in any weather.”
Ideas about earthquake weather probably started with the Ancient Greeks. Aristotle believed that hot air rumbling around in subterranean caverns caused ground shaking, larger incidents being the effect of air actually bursting through the surface. The University of Memphis’ Center for Earthquake Research and Information (CERI) offers a web page on earthquake facts and follies that goes on to state subsequent theories propounded that “earthquakes occurred in calm, cloudy conditions, and were usually preceded by strong winds, fireballs, and meteors.” The page quickly adds that there is no connection between weather and earthquakes. A cursory web search reveals this position is in keeping with the mainstream scientific stance on the subject. The USGS’ web site, for example, peremptorily states that “there is no connection between weather and earthquakes.”
It seems, however, that the serenity currently presiding over this view may be on the verge of changing. An article in New Scientist reports that some scientists think there may be a connection between weather and earthquakes, after all. Evidence since 1973 shows that higher occurrences of earthquakes between magnitudes 4 and 6 coincide with El Niño, a weather phenomenon that “raises the local sea level by a few tens of centimetres, and they believe the extra water weight may increase the pressure of fluids in the pores of the rock beneath the seabed.” The idea, in contrast to the heavy glacier theory outlined in our earthquake debate post, is that the increased pressure counteracts the frictional forces that hold the rock plates together, thereby allowing them to move against each other.
It also appears that volcanoes may be more active during the winter when its cold. The idea is that sea levels drop slightly during winters in the northern hemisphere because more water remains on land as ice and snow. Similar to the heavy glacier theory of the previous post, there is less weight on the continental margins where many of the most active volcanoes exist. This ultimately affects the balance between unstable tectonic plates thereby triggering seismic activity and magma flows in some cases. In other parts of the world the balance may be upset by increased weight from rainfall or ice caps melting, yet another cause of increased seismic activity. This, of course, is where the idea of global warming, a theme explored in the previous post, comes into play.
Whatever you believe about earthquake weather, the phrase itself has a certain allure. Joe Strummer, from the legendary punk rock band, The Clash, bestowed this name upon his 1989 album. Rock artist, Beck, gave it to a track on his 2005 Guero album. It’s also the title of Tim Power’s popular 2007 fantasy novel.