The Five Scariest Takeaways From the New Yorker Article About the Earthquake That Will "Devastate" Seattle


Actually we do have an early warning system but we still can't save you.

Don't worry about the tsunami, the quake and fires are your big worry.
The other impact of this story will be disaster porn about every major city. Want people to read your article? Tell them how they're ALL GOING TO DIE!!!

Of course, it's also a good wake up call after we all keep hitting the snooze button, just like we're doing with global warming. Maybe someone needs to write disaster porn about crop failures and water wars?
Will the Space Needle simultaneously shatter into a million pieces AND tip over? Otherwise, I'm not interested.

This sounds like the EOW disaster flick I just watched, These Final Hours.

There's no escape, so it's mainly people's crazed reactions to the inevitable end.

I love how Americans always think that the big things always have to happen to them during their life times. The self-centeredness is really pretty staggering
One big point I think you missed is that there are two scenarios that are being anticipated:

The big one - "somewhere between 8.0 and 8.6."

The very big one - "somewhere between 8.7 and 9.2." (The 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami was 9.0.)

"The odds of the big Cascadia earthquake happening in the next fifty years are roughly one in three. The odds of the very big one are roughly one in ten."
@5 - yeah, I was going to take reasonable steps to prepare for an overdue mega quake, but then I was, like, who do I think I am? Dwayne Johnson? John Cusack? Pssshhaw!
"[W]e are now 315 years into a 243-year cycle"

That is not how probability works.
In all seriousness, I wish someone would write an equally well researched and equally vivid piece on what life will be like under global warming in 30-40 years. The mega quake is bad, but global warming is as big a disaster that will affect not just millions, but billions of people. We have blinders on to it as well.
@8 - sweet. I'll ignore this because they got their p values wrong.

When you know the causal mechanism and the relation between it and time, probability *does* work that way.
They forgot to mention the spent fuel rods that are currently parked along the Columbia River where the Trojan Nuclear Plant used to stand. Those dry cask containers will be busting open and poisoning the whole region. We should be worrying about that right now.

The west coast sliding into the ocean? Think of the tectonic shift in electoral politics that will cause. Somewhere Reince Priebus is on the shoreline jumping up and down as hard as he can, trying to break the fucker loose.
So that wall of water is going to wash over the hundred miles of the Olympic Peninsula between the ocean and Seattle and stop right at I-5? Guess I better walk past the REI and get up the hill to Melrose when it hits.
Ugh, never going to be able to afford my rent on the Hill once it's coast-side property.
Can you guys please reach out to some scientists about this? Im really wondering what the affects of the tsunami will be to Seattle. I would expect the olympics to block it, but could we get a mini one from the sound?
@13, they did a piss poor job of explaining, but in the previous events Puget Sound and Lake Washington also experience locally generated tsunamis, caused by landslides (both marine and terrestrial). Puget Sound will generate a wave that will slosh back and forth a few times between Olympia and Vancouver Island. For anyone interested in a more in-depth analysis of what is someday (maybe later today, maybe in a century) headed our way, read Full Rip 9.0
The Atlantic coast is going to be obliterated by Cat-5 hurricanes and rising sea levels, the Pacific coast by earthquakes, and the central states by giant tornadoes, and earthquakes. Meanwhile, we're working on turning the planet into uninhabitable Venus' baby sister, CO2-wise. That's all contingent, of course, on Earth not getting popped by some giant space rock in its earth-crossing elliptical orbit in the meantime.

And, living long enough for THAT is contingent on war-mongering religious Republicans not kicking off a nuke war to expedite Armageddon and the Second Coming.

Of the various world-destroying threats we face, maybe we could concentrate on that last one for starters? And then the climate-change thing.
I should also mention, tsunamis in Puget Sound are more of a risk from the Seattle Fault (which last went off 1100 years ago, but raised Alki and Bainbridge by ~20 ft in a few minutes when it did)
..will our volcanoes go off at the same time as the big in the movies ?
I believe it's the shaking that's supposed to wreck many buildings in Seattle and parts west of I-5. The Cascadia tsunami is not predicted to touch Seattle. The tsunami will instead flood and obliterate mostly lowlying oceanfront communities hugging the coast. If that's correct, I think the article could be a lot clearer about that.
@20 - That is correct.

Also, Tokyo had relatively little damage in the Tohuku quake, being a similar distance from the epicenter as Seattle (or Portland) will be from the epicenter of the next Cascadia mega-quake.
Paul Constant is the best person to answer that question.
Here's a simulation of the flooding of downtown caused by a Seattle Fault (not Cascadia) quake. Harbor Island is totally submerged (think fuel spills). North/south transport cut for months.

WTF to do: 1) store some drinking water; 2) accept the impermanence of life; 3) laugh at Earth's revenge on the heedless White Man. Ha!
"Otisburg. It's just a little place, Mr. Luthor. Miss Teshmacher, she's got her own place..."
Can someone tell me the take home here? Should I buy property now, or wait for prices to drop after the quake? And where should I put my down payment cash to keep it liquid in the event of a buying opportunity?
Following such an event, Eastern Washington will see a high rate of eye injury.
From champagne corks.
@15, in an 8.8 to 9.2 event, the tsunami that would hit Seattle is quite devastating, worse than this article mentions. Geologists studying mud flow data see marks two hundred feet above the water level in the years when these events are their worst.
That much water will cause the Straight to widen significantly, turning the Sound into a funnel. The tsunami would hit Bellevue at roughly the same size it hits Seattle. Olympia would be wiped off the map, and the valleys to the southeast of Olympia could become an inland sea.
The Straight of Juan de Fuca is simply too deep and massive to provide an effective barrier to that much water.
I just want you to know that no matter what you do, you’re still gonna die.
-Rose Castorini
Look, the problem with quake probability curves is the faults just store up the energy, making it much more likely it will be even bigger when it goes, not less.

If you're in the SR-99 Bertha Tunnel of Doom the gates will seal you in, but the multi-month power loss will mean you die anyway as the pumps and fans and lights shut down. And we can't even save 1/20th of the injured, so we triage those we can say that our scarce resources will save.
Agree that you should have some drinking water, LED radio & whistle in each room. You won't need food, you can survive a month, but you need water within 2-3 days.
@31, right?? I thought this was pretty widely understood at this point.
We don't HAVE to be woefully unprepared. We can incentivize seismic retrofits, for example.

Here's what I just wrote to the Mayor/Council regarding HALA. Now, it's unclear how many properties this would actually affect, but the main point is that we can start integrating earthquake preparation into everything else we do.

"I support the recommendations put forth by the HALA committee; especially those aimed at (D)ADUs. My wife and I purchased a single family home a year ago, and had planned to build a basement ADU.
However, the owner-occupancy requirement made us decide against it. As part of building the ADU, we also considered simultaneously doing a seismic retrofit.

I would suggest adding seismic retrofit requirements to the ADU changes in HALA. Here's an idea that Israel uses (and possibly San
Francisco):… .
We're overdue for a massive earthquake, and seismic retrofits are currently disincentivized by the housing market. Doing a seismic retrofit could be cheaply done during the construction of an ADU, while access to the foundation and bare studs is possible. Once drywall goes up, retrofitting becomes a much more expensive proposition.

I would recommend making a seismic retrofit program part of the process for establishing an ADU. Exemptions could be offered for an ADU clemency program, if desired. Thanks for your work on affordable housing!"
Thanks Obama.
Not certain where any of you are getting this stuff about 200 foot tall Tsunami's in Seattle.

If you'd like to read a report written by actual scientists...…

It's going to be bad. It's not going to be the end of the world. Unless you live on the Pacific coast. In which case...sorry.
A seismic retrofit that insures my house doesn't fall down is cool, I guess, but if all my neighbors houses fall down and catch fire as all of Puget Sound's infrastructure goes offline for a few months, well, not that cool.

The West Coast economy will collapse, the national economy will collapse, we'll have no drinking water, electricity, gas, food, ports, etc, etc. And once the measles outbreak kicks in...
please, just die.
Dying is easy.

For your own sake, however, try to get hit by a truck and die quickly, I would not want to drown to death. Although even that can be easy, I hear.
We can all learn from the 1974 movie, "Earthquake."…
There's an interesting (and fairly Seattle-centric) book-length treatment of this topic from 2013, for those with an urge to learn more about this, called "Full Rip 9.0":
@26, I doubt it, without King County's tax base to support Eastern Washington, they would have to get used to paying for things themselves, which would mean higher local taxes. The amount of money that flows from Western Washington to support Eastern Washington is huge.
I remember hearing a Doctor say that if you live long enough you will eventually get cancer and that will kill you. This is the same sort of thing. Meh. I will leave you to your speculations and titalations.
#20 - the tsunami was already predicted to affect Seattle as far back as 2007, even before we saw that the waves in Japan in 2011 were channeled high up into the mountains. Geologists and native stories indicate the same kind of flow happened here.

NOAA video - tsunami inundation of Seattle:…

Discover magazine article:…

Keep water and some camping supplies in your car. Keep water in your freezer and pb&j in the pantry. If the world doesn't end, at least you can go camping and have some lunch.
Now let's have the Seattle Times do an article on the impact on Manhattan of a 6-7 quake from the Ramapo fault zone.
@42: That video is of a simulated earthquake along the Seattle fault, not a Cascadia earthquake, as evidenced from the video description.
I get why leaders ignore future disasters. It's just economics. It's daunting. It's depressing.

There's no economically viable retrofit for the average resident that's going make most apartment buildings or homes livable after a 9.0 quake in Seattle. Good retro-fits are outlandishly expensive. To really harden these older brick buildings and units with parking overhangs, etc, would cost a fortune and nobody wants pay for it.

The best you're going to be able to do with a basic retro-fit is make it so your building doesn't instantly shake off its foundations and into a tumbling pile of bricks and sticks. It will help to minimize deaths, but a 9.0 quake will pretty much make most the city economically devastated for years.

So most planners just kinda go "fuck it", cross their fingers, and tell people to have earthquake kits to ease their anxieties.

In a 9.0 scenario your little earthquake kit of a couple of bottles of water and some batteries isn't going to do shit for you when there's literally no infrastructure to move goods that doesn't work on mud tracks and nobody can make money for a year and 30% of the city is still homeless. What you're going to need is a pile of emergency cash to get the fuck out of here.

Not saying you shouldn't have a kit. You should. I have them. Particularly since it's more likely we'll experience smaller shakers and it's good to have a few days prep to ease the burden on first responders.

But a 9.0 quake? Better have some sort of retro-fitted storage shed filled with supplies. And who's going to do that? The few that do will just have all that shit "liberated."
If we have any death-defying event I expect all you Dan Savage readers better be prepared now - because If only Spokane rednecks repopulate the earth, life will not be worth living. Stock up on booze, picnic food, and candles so we can all have great blackout parties!
@33, you are an idiot. Yes, require a seismic retrofit as a requirement to legalize/establish an ADU. That will surely make cause broke older people who are trying to stay in their house by renting out the basement to rush to DPD with wheelbarrows of cash to do so. The Mayor is lucky to have constituents like you to advise him.
It's not only broke older people. I had a bid to have Chez Vel-DuRay retrofitted, and they wanted $3k for an engineering review before what they said would cost 14k. That's as dumb as the people who spent thousands to build bomb shelters in the 50's, and frankly the house isn't worth it. Let the stupid thing slide off the foundation. I'd just as soon start over.

$14K. Was one of the city certified retro-fit vendors? Because that's sounds awesome.

I've been looking into it for a small 12-unit three story building with an overhang - and I'm getting like 200K-250K! Which makes me think that building must really be fucked. Sigh.

Yeah. The idea that all these old buildings are going to be brought up to a retro-fit standard will only be possible if there is some sort of massive federal grant available.

Which would be cheaper than the federal disaster relief after everything crumbles into dust. And anything that makes preventative sense won't happen. Because... AMURKA!
@35 and others have a point. In Seattle proper not much chance of tsunami unless at a specific place it rips. Don't waste time worrying about it. The quakes fires and liquefaction is what will kill you.
Short method to be quake ready is: BUY NEW HOUSES. Already built to code. Then put quake/fire/flood kits in each room. Water, whistle, radio, LED flashlight. Rest mostly waste of time.
tkc dear, Chez Vel-DuRay is but a modest (extremely modest) single family home with a daylight basement, not an apartment building.

It's tastefully appointed, of course, but nothing to write home about.
@47, thanks, love you too!

You do realize that an ADU is more than just someone renting out their basement, right? You can do that now, without getting classified by the city as a rental, and without bringing anything up to code. An ADU means having a kitchen installed, a separate entrance, windows big enough for egress in case of fire, etc. It's not just slapping new paint on the walls and calling it done. It's probably $20k of cost (unless you're doing stuff yourself). Throwing in some seismic retrofits (obviously touching the parts of the house that you're changing - like bolting the house to the foundation, but not touching the roof, if you're converting the basement to an ADU) is not going to massively inflate the cost. And like I said, exemptions can be made for people who already have the ADU set up and aren't doing construction.
@31 & @32: *sigh* I know, right??
Takeaway: Best excuse yet not to clean the attic, ever. If you move, it will be into a collapsed economy, and even if you will love seeing capitalism go, you will still be surrounded by millions of people suffering nervous breakdowns. With guns.
"Data suggests that the Pacific Northwest experiences subduction-zone earthquakes an average of every 243 years. "[W]e are now 315 years into a 243-year cycle." In other words, we're overdue for some shaking."

This is meaningless w/o info on the variance of the events that averaged out to every 243 yrs. If it's 3 500 yr gaps and 3 50 yr gaps that's not the same as every 243 yrs like clockwork.

They really should have been listening to the Indians' stories, that's another takeaway.
@5- I have two words for you: Hurricane Katrina
@58 I think you only serve to further @5's point. Most Americans were not in Louisiana (or Houston) during Katrina. It did not happen to them, anymore than the '99 earthquake in which 17,000 people died happened to you.
@58 sorry - the 1999 earthquake in Turkey is what I was referring to.

But what if you happen to live in areas where natural disasters - fire, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, (heck, let's throw in volcanic eruptions just for shits-and-giggles - because I've been directly downwind of THREE such in MY lifetime), take your pick - DO occur on a fairly regular basis? Does that give one a free-pass to kvetch without being accused of being "self-centered"?
The point about being "prepared" for emergencies isn't so you only think of your self.

The point is that you lessen the burden on first responders and emergency response so they can triage and concentrate on people that need it. And MAYBE then YOU might be in a good position to help people in your own community. Rather than be one that needs help.

That's why we make it about "ourselves" or whatever the silly point was.
<—Amateur radio operator situated on the bluff East of the I-5 ‘gorge’ (and one of the Net Control ops for the 96 Repeater [one of the primary retransmitting stations sequestered in time of civil emergency]). There may be little we can do; yet, if each person prepares for doing the little they can, it will make a difference
I thought the scariest takeaway was that, apparently according to the article, the average of 8 and 2 is 10 and not 5... FREAKY SHIT RIGHT THERE FOLKS!
Data suggests that the Pacific Northwest experiences subduction-zone earthquakes an average of every 243 years. "[W]e are now 315 years into a 243-year cycle." In other words, we're overdue for some shaking.

One thing doesn't seem up for debate: it's inevitable. For everyone's sake, I hope it's still a long time before it happens but, for selfish reasons, I hope it can wait at least seven or so years.

Catalina: Will the Space Needle simultaneously shatter into a million pieces AND tip over? Otherwise, I'm not interested.

Chihuly fans have formed a huge rapid-response team. They're going to rush to his place and become human sandbags.

It will look like the whole ocean, elevated, overtaking land. Nor will it be made only of water—not once it reaches the shore. It will be a five-story deluge of pickup trucks and doorframes and cinder blocks and fishing boats and utility poles and everything else that once constituted the coastal towns of the Pacific Northwest."

I think I could handle this as long as I didn't get whacked by a Twilight fan.
Is it possible save all lives at risk and significantly reduce damage in the same way, as skiers are saved from avalanches.
In [1] authors shown that there were no strong earthquakes during 30 years 1965-1995 of underground nuclear testing.

They used open source data [2,3] , and I reproduced their results using the same data.
The procedure should be as following:
1. Prepare buildings: switch our electric power, gas, etc.
2. Evacuate people
3. Install and explode underground nuclear charge close to the Cascadia Subduction Zone

[1] Aleksei M Fridman, Evgenii V Polyachenko, and N R Nasyrkanov, On some correlations in seismodynamics and on two components of Earth's seismic activity.…,…
[2] Nuclear Tests—Databases…
[3] Significant Earthquake Database…

Alex Zolot, PhD, Scientist