Our View: Geologist Jim Berkland’s earthquake predictions should
not be dismissed lightly
On October 12, 1989, a county geologist named Jim Berkland put his professional reputation on the line. He called The Dispatch and predicted that an earthquake with a magnitude between 3.5 and 6.0 would hit the Bay Area sometime between October 14 and 21. On October 17, the 6.9 magnitude Loma Prieta quake struck, flattening the Cypress elevated freeway structure, dropping a section of the Bay Bridge, demolishing buildings from Santa Cruz to San Francisco, and killing more than 60 people.
Obviously, Mr. Berkland received undying fame and the respect of his peers. His method for predicting earthquakes underwent a thorough peer-review, and a refined method is now being used to predict earthquakes and tsunamis.
Jim Berkland received some short-lived media attention and a two-month suspension for scaring people and predicting quakes on county time.
He has been laughed out of the US Geological Survey. Berkland claims a 75 percent success rate in predicting quakes with his method. His peers pooh-pooh his claims.
Berkland‚s methods may be unorthodox, even quirky, but we cannot dismiss his predictions out of hand.
First, he is a trained geologist. His “windows” based on tidal stresses caused by conjunctions of the sun and moon, have been accepted in the geological literature for decades as having a definite, though small, effect.
Secondly, we admire a man who is willing to put his professional reputation on the line for what he believes to be the truth.
Thirdly, his success in predicting quakes, most notably the Loma Prieta, but many others as well, ensures that if Jim Berkland calls The Dispatch with another prediction, we will certainly listen.
Fourthly, this is earthquake country. Berkland’s work serves as a reminder to be prepared. Maybe the Big One will not occur during his next window, January 27 through February 3, within 140 miles of Mt. Diablo.
But it will happen sometime and someplace. Water and batteries, anybody?
Jim Berkland and his biographer Cal Orey will be signing books at Barnes and Noble at Gilroy Crossing, January 29, 2 pm.
Editor’s Note: A 3.7 magnitude quake struck northeast of Morgan Hill Wednesday, two days before Berkland predicted and within the 140 miles of Mt. Diablo.