Shallow New Zealand quake a warning to Pacific Northwest

Experts in the northwest warn the deadly earthquake in New Zealand was similar to what might happen here.

The quake hit Christchurch, New Zealand, a city comparable in size to Spokane, along a fault-line that was unknown until last September. That’s when an even larger quake hit New Zealand — but with limited damage, since it was centered farther from any city. Authorities in Christchurch were predicting the death-toll would rise to 300.

In recent years, scientists have found evidence of shallow faults across the northwest, such as the Seattle fault that runs beneath Qwest Field (the Seahawks stadium) and roughly follows Interstate-90. <--break->

In fact, there’s sort of one per town,” says John Vidale, a professor of earth sciences at the University of Washington and director of the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network. “There’s the Tacoma fault, there’s the Olympia fault, there’s the Portland hills fault, there’s the south Whidbey fault, which runs up the east side of the Puget Sound.”

Just like in New Zealand, these shallow faults shake only rarely – perhaps once every 1,000 years, or even once in 10,000 years. Rare, but extremely deadly.

Comparing to Nisqually, ten years ago — smaller but stronger

In contrast, the most recent major earthquake in western Washington was the Nisqually earthquake. The tenth anniversary happens to be on Monday.

Fenix Underground club after Nisqually quake

Seattle's Pioneer Square shortly after the 2001 quake.

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Why snowstorms in Chicago can mean sunny in Seattle

You might have wondered — as you gazed out your sunny Seattle-area window, and listened to news of record cold and snow sweeping the midwest and East coast — is there a connection?

Yes, there is.

“Our weather often is the just the opposite of what it is in the eastern part of the united states,” says Cliff Mass, professor of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Washington.

“When we are cold, like it was just before Thanksgiving, they tend to be warm,” says Mass.

The reason we’re yin when they’re yang, and vice versa, has to do with the jet stream and “ridges” of high and low pressure in the sky, as Mass explains it.<--break->

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