Rumble Only Predictor Of Oklahoma Earthquakes - For Now

Tuesday, November 8th 2011, 6:30 pm
By: News On 6

TULSA, Oklahoma -- Oklahoma bears the brunt of Mother Nature's fury. Our infamous tornadoes snake through the Sooner sky. Wicked lightning crackles overhead as torrential rains flood below.

As Oklahomans, we like to think we are prepared for the worst. And we get a little help from science and technology. But unlike severe weather, experts say earthquakes can't be predicted.

Many of us heard the recent earthquakes before we actually felt them. That short "roar" has been our best and only warning. Geologists say it's simply a soundwave created by shifting plates.

In quake-prone areas like California and Japan, sensors provide some guidance. Oklahoma isn't quite there yet.

So what happens when our confidence is quite literally shaken to the core? 

"There has been a lot of work trying to go into prediction. We have found they are simply impossible to predict," said Dr. Bryan Tapp, Ph.D., a structural geologist.

11/8/2011 Related Story: 3.6 Magnitude Quake Recorded Tuesday Afternoon

Geologists like Bryan Tapp at The University of Tulsa say the only thing they can say with certainty is earthquakes will happen.

"Now they are working towards mitigation. Can you give a minute's worth of warning so that you shut down that infrastructure. You actually minimize damage and loss of life," he said.

Tapp says Japan has the most advanced earthquake warning system utilizing global positioning system technology.

"They have the best GPS network in the world. The data coming out of that is phenomenal. They were able to within hours get a perfect image of the fault plane," said Dr. Bryan Tapp.

"Show the slip along the fault plane; show where we have the major off sets."

Oklahoma is following in Japan's footsteps.

The U.S. Geological Survey is currently implementing a complicated earthquake warning system in California. Tapp says a sensitive network of GPS unit's are being placed along the state's fault.

"What they are doing is sending messages to automated systems that can do things like stop an elevator - let everybody off," he said. "Shut down a gas pipeline. Maybe close access to a bridge. Then the warnings will also go to responders to get ready."

But Tapp says that system is simply not cost effective for Oklahoma. And right now our only warning is the rumble.

Finding a way to warn people individually is still in the works. USGS geologists say text messages or other portable devices would have to have a distinct alert. Otherwise it might take people too long to find their phones before the earthquake hits.

See full coverage of the Oklahoma Earthquakes