Ashley Gross / KPLU

You’re in downtown Seattle getting ready to drive onto the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Then, an alert comes over the radio or shows up on your phone saying an earthquake is about to strike, allowing you to pull over and avoid being on the elevated highway when it could collapse.

That’s an example of how getting even just a few seconds’ warning before a big earthquake hits could save lives. Such an alert system for the Pacific Northwest is being tested right now.

Matt Cooper / University of Oregon

Any parent of a rambunctious youngster can tell you trouble might be afoot when things go quiet in the playroom. Two independent research initiatives indicate there is a comparable situation with the Cascadia earthquake fault zone.

Max Kaufman / Alaska Volcano Observatory/University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute

Most volcanoes rumble before they erupt, but Washington and Alaska researchers say a big recent eruption was preceded not by a rumble, but a scream.

Alaska’s Mount Redoubt blew its top several times in 2009. Leading up to many of the explosions were a series of little earthquakes—not uncommon for an active volcano. But these quakes began to accelerate, one after another, like a drumbeat building to a climax.

Rob Griffith / AP

The Northwest hasn’t had a killer earthquake since 1965 – and it’s been three centuries since anything massive shook this region. That’s how New Zealanders felt, until two years ago, when a quake knocked their third largest city to its knees. 

Lessons from Christchurch, NZ, and other Pacific Rim cities, are resonating at a meeting of the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute, in Seattle this week.

PORTLAND, Ore. - Portland architect Ben Kaiser has proposed a way to protect school children from earthquakes and save school districts money.

Pacific Northwest Seismic Network

The Puget Sound region is experiencing a record “episodic tremor and slip” event, according to the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network.

U. S. Geological Survey

What would you do if you knew a major earthquake was about to strike in 10 seconds? Some scientists say even a few moments’ warning could save lives, and they’re setting up a system that might soon give Washingtonians time to act before the shaking starts.

Two major earthquakes last year raised red flags for the Northwest. Some of the damage from those quakes in Japan and New Zealand resulted from a phenomenon called liquefaction. This is when the ground turns to jello or quicksand. Transmission towers topple, buildings sink and utility pipes break. Now, geologists in the Northwest have mapped the spots most likely to liquefy here in an earthquake.

This summer, the sound of hydraulic jacks reverberates through upscale neighborhoods near Tokyo Bay. Look closer, and you'll notice some of the homes here are tilted.

Columbia University/Earth Institute

Updated 6/18/12, with comments and links from whale advocates.

An expensive science mission off the Washington and Oregon coasts has been scaled back, at least for now, out of concern for orca whales. A research ship is using blasts of sound to create maps of a major earthquake fault, which is considered the greatest tsunami risk along the U.S. Pacific coast.

The Associated Press

If you live in the Northwest, it's hard to escape the knowledge that the possibility of a major earthquake is real. 

Yet, far more than half of residents here are not prepared for such a disaster. Despite frequent campaigns encouraging homeowners to have at least a 3-day supply of emergency water, food and first aid on hand, authorities assume only 30-40 percent of us actually do.

Columbia University/Earth Institute

One of the world’s most advanced research ships will be cruising along the Washington and Oregon coasts this month – to look for clues about giant earthquakes. 

A zone that runs parallel to the coast – but deep beneath the sea – is known to have unleashed mega-quakes in the past, similar to the one that caused the giant tsunami last year in Japan. The Cascadia fault zone runs about 700 miles alongside Vancouver Island, Washington and Oregon.

Chris Gladis / Flickr

Geologists have discovered two previously unknown earthquake faults – and possibly a third – near Bellingham. The scientists working for the U.S. Geological Survey believe the shallow faults are capable of spawning damaging tremors.

A research grant announced Tuesday will allow seismologists to take the first steps toward an early warning system for earthquakes in the Northwest. An operational system is still a long way off, but it could eventually resemble the computerized warnings pioneered in Japan.

Back in March, some Japanese residents got an alert via cell phone or a TV screen pop-up. The alert warned them that severe shaking would begin within seconds.

Pacific Northwest Seismograph Network director John Vidale says an early warning, even of less than a minute, gives time to prepare.

"somecanuckchick" /

A 6.4 magnitude earthquake occurred about 73 miles off the coast of Vancouver Island at 12:41 this afternoon. There are no reports of damage or injuries. A Royal Canadian Mounted Police dispatcher in Tofino, British Columbia, said most people there barely felt the quake. 

Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) says it has inspected area bridges and all appear undamaged.

For years top scientists have said a big earthquake near the Hanford Nuclear Reservation is highly unlikely in our lifetimes. Now, a new geological study is being published, and what it says is shaking up assumptions.

Courtesy Ecola Architects, PC

If you’re near the coastline and a major earthquake strikes, the advice as always is to scramble for higher ground. But sometimes, high ground is far away. For example, if you’re in Ocean Shores or Seaside, Ore., the best option could be to head for the rooftop of a sturdy building, if there is one.

In Westport, and communities along the Northwest coast,  the horrible and gripping images of destruction from the Japanese earthquake and tsunami are still top-of-mind. In this fishing and beach resort town, retiree Linda Orgel is one of hundreds of coastal residents spurred to become better prepared. That interest is being channeled into planning and design meetings for a possible string of manmade refuge towers.


Earthquake scientists are hoping to build an early-warning system for Washington, Oregon and California.  It would give typically about five to 30 seconds of notice that a big quake was starting. The scientists have been meeting this week to craft a proposal. 

There’s no way to predict earthquakes. But once a big one starts, it sends out different kinds of shock waves that move at different speeds. One type is fast-moving, but barely perceptible. These are called P-waves. They arrive before the slow traveling but damaging shock waves (called S-waves).  

So, if you have precise sensors, they can detect the fast-moving waves and send out alarms. 

AP Photo

From Chehalis to Chicago, local health food stores are seeing their stock of potassium iodide pills sell out, as public fear over radiation fallout from Japan's damaged nuclear plants continues.

The trouble is the fear doesn't match the risk, say numerous scientists and government officials, both here and across the nation, according to The News Tribune and other reports.

NHK via YouTube

You may have heard Washington has an earthquake fault similar to the one that devastated Japan.  While there are many fault-lines criss-crossing western Washington, the only one that bears a strong similarity is under the ocean, parallel to our coast-line.  It’s called the Cascadia subduction zone. 


A local expert says danger to the United States is unlikely from the nuclear crisis in Japan, following the devastating earthquake and tsunami. That's also being echoed by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, as reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Keichi Nakane / Yomiuri Shimbun

Updated 7:08 a.m., PST.  

The National Weather Service (NOAA) has issued a tsunami advisory for the Washington Coast following the massive 8.9 quake in northeast Japan.

Tsunami 'Advisory' Definition, from the National Weather Service:

  • Persons in a tsunami “Advisory” coastal area should move out of the water, off the beach and out of harbors and marinas.
  • Tsunami Advisories mean that a tsunami capable of producing strong currents or waves dangerous to people in or very near water is imminent or expected.
  • Significant widespread inundation is NOT expected for areas in an ‘advisory.'


Waves Expected Here After 7 a.m.; Some Evacuations on Coast

In Pacific and Grays Harbor counties, emergency management officials say "limited" evacuations are taking place. 

In Grays Harbor County, evacuations are taking place in the lowest-lying areas of Taholah, Pacific Beach, Moclips and Iron Springs (north of Copalis Beach), are people are being asked to move to higher ground.  A wave surge of up to 4 feet is projected for those areas shortly after 7 a.m. this morning, the highest level of wave expected to hit Washington state.

Pacific County has implemented its 'reverse 911' system, calling residents on the coast and in lowlying areas and asking them to evacuate calmly. He says an orderly evacuation is happening in Long Beach, Ilwaco and Ocean Park.

People are being asked to stay away from the beaches, harbors and coastal lowlands. Although the initial wave times are indicated, the highest wave may not impact the area for a few hours after that time.

In Oregon, tsunami sirens are blaring in coastal communities, the warning for residents to seek higher ground.  Traffic is heavy on the main transportation artery, Highway 101. In Seaside, at least one hotel has been evacuated. Waves in Oregon may be as high as 6 feet, and expected to arrive between 7 and 8 a.m.

Steven Kramer / University of Washington

Ten years ago today, the Puget Sound region was rocked by a powerful earthquake. The magnitude 6.8 quake brought down brick facades, damaged Seattle’s waterfront viaduct and split the Capitol dome in Olympia. The ground shook for about 45 seconds and tremors were felt as far away as Salt Lake City.


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 and roughly follows Interstate-90.


With massive flooding in Australia in the news, or earthquakes in South America, perhaps it’s no surprise that 2010 was the most deadly year in a generation for natural disasters around the globe.  What’s the worst we might face here in western Washington?

The nation is watching the northwest, with earthquakes - political and real - in mind.

One That Didn’t Happen

What on Tuesday looked like a looming shake-up of the political landscape in Washington subsided.  State voters did not rebuke the Democrats in power. Instead, they returned Patty Murray to the US Senate, and gave the ‘D’s’ the majority in both chambers of the state legislature.