This Pulitzer Prize-winning earthquake story scared us to death

Published: Tuesday, September 19, 2017 @ 5:10 PM

Worst Earthquakes in History

Editor's Note: This story first appeared July 16, 2015 and answers questions inspired by an article written by The New Yorker's Kathryn Schulz. Her story, "The Really Big One," was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing on Monday. The Pulitzer Prize is considered journalism's highest honor.


Original post: Some in the Northwest have admitted to losing sleep after the New Yorker's terrifying article on how the "big one" will devastate Seattle and everything west of Interstate 5.

"If the entire [Cascade Subduction] zone gives way at once, an event that seismologists call a full-margin rupture, the magnitude will be somewhere between 8.7 and 9.2," wrote Kathyrn Schulz. "That’s the very big one."

In response to the article, local experts -- from Pacific Northwest Seismic Network, Seattle Emergency Management Office, and The Seattle Times -- weighed in on the Cascadia earthquake during an Ask Me Anything on Reddit

As the science in Schulz's article is correct, below are 7 questions and answers that may bring a little calm:

Question: You say the average frequency of such an event is 1 in 300 years. Do you know if the distribution is roughly uniform? My guess is that it would tend to decrease over time -- but I've also just googled and found articles that suggest continental drift is actually speeding up. Or is the distribution of big earthquakes something that we don't really have a good handle on at the moment? 

Answer: Good question. At the highest magnitude, the magnitude-frequency distribution is no longer exponential. The Gutenberg-Richter distribution is recast as the truncated or doubly-truncated Gutenberg Richter distribution, which reflects approaching a physical limit on the possible size of earthquakes.

I think the global limit is thought to be somewhere around 10. But remember, breakage of Cascadia has a small chance of triggering the Queen Charlotte fault, which has a small chance of triggering big faults along the Aleutians. So in the case of very, very, very rare and large events, one is not limited to just one fault.

Question: Will Seattle (or anywhere in the PNW, really) ever implement earthquake early warning systems as mentioned in the New Yorker article about Japan?

Answer: We [PNSN] are currently testing earthquake early warning in the Pacific Northwest, in fact I have it on my phone now.

It needs more testing and full funding before it is ready to be released to the public, however. 

Question: How would a major earthquake affect the nearby volcanoes? 

Answer: The same process of subduction - where one tectonic plate dives under another - is responsible for both our earthquake risk and the creation of our volcanoes. In other places, like Chile, volcanic eruptions have followed major earthquakes. Several of Japan's volcanoes became more active after their M 9 quake and tsunami in 2011. But I haven't heard of any good evidence that Mount Rainier or other Cascade volcanoes erupted in a serious way in 1700, the year of our last megaquake. 

Question: Any chance of a NW quake setting off the Yellowstone caldera? 

Answer: Zero. And a Yellowstone eruption is so unlikely and so prevalent among questions from the public that it is a major source of irritation to many scientists. 

Question: Did you see inaccuracies in the New Yorker article or was there anything about it that bothered you? 

Answer: Overall, it was a well-written and documented article. The scenario left an impression of much greater devastation that is anticipated to occur, however. 

Question: What are the chances "the big one" will never come in our lifetime? How much do most of us not understand about probability and statistics when it comes to natural disasters like earthquakes?

Answer: If the chance it will come is 15 percent, the chance it won't come is 85 percent (if we're expecting to live another 50 years). However, there are plenty of "pretty big ones" to worry about as well, so you're overwhelming likely to see some action in the PNW.

Statistically, we're more likely to have another deep source quake like the Nisqually, that occurred in 2001. Chances for another one are above 80% within the next 50 years.

Question: How realistic is it that 3 days' supplies (the minimum recommended) will enable my survival of the Very Big One in Seattle? And how many days' supplies do you personally have in your home ready for an earthquake?

Answer: We recommend people prepare themselves for 7 to 10 days vs. three. For a major quake, life won't be back to "normal" after just three days. I've got enough at home to make it through a week, and also keep a stash of stuff in my car as well as at work.

(Getty file photo by FABIAN MATZERATH/AFP/Getty Images)(FABIAN MATZERATH/AFP/Getty Images)

Beyond supplies, I always encourage people to talk about their plans - especially around communication, which we know will be affected. Where will they be? How can they get back together? Where could they meet if not at home? 

Trending - Most Read Stories

National Security Adviser Gen. H.R. McMaster out; former U.S. ambassador John Bolton in

Published: Thursday, March 22, 2018 @ 6:37 PM

Who Is H.R. McMaster, Trump’s National Security Adviser

National Security Adviser Gen. H.R. McMaster is resigning from the Trump administration and will be replaced by former U.S. ambassador John Bolton, according to a tweet Thursday afternoon from President Donald Trump.

>> Read more trending newsWho is H.R. McMaster, Trump's national security advisor

National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster attends a meeting between President Donald Trump and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the Oval Office at the White House on March 20, 2018 in Washington, D.C.(Pool/Getty Images)

Trending - Most Read Stories

Congress sends giant government funding bill to President Trump

Published: Thursday, March 22, 2018 @ 8:40 PM

Just over 24 hours after GOP leaders unveiled the details of massive plan to fund the federal government, the House and Senate gave easy bipartisan approval to the $1.3 trillion spending measure, even as members in both parties grumbled about the actions of their leaders, the process, the size of the bill, the amount of money involved, and the specifics.

The final Senate vote – which took place soon after midnight – was 65 to 32 in favor of the over 2,000 page bill, which no lawmaker claimed to have read from start to finish.

“Washington has reached a new low,” complained Sen. David Perdue (R-GA), who ridiculed the increase in spending agreed to by both parties.

“This is beyond pathetic. It is irresponsible, and a danger to our Republic,” Perdue added.

“Our congressional budget process is badly broken, and this Omnibus bill is just another symptom of Washington’s sickness,” said Sen. James Lankford (R-OK).

Among the many items in the final bill:

+ A big boost in defense spending, giving the Pentagon $700 billion in 2018, an increase of over $60 billion.

+ A substantial increase in domestic spending, highlighted by money for infrastructure, medical research and more.

+ Two bills pressed in the aftermath of the Parkland, Florida school shooting – the “Fix NICS” bill that would funnel more information into the instant background check system for gun buyers, and the “STOP School Violence Act,” which would help schools better recognize possible threats of violence in the future.

A rush to a final vote in the Senate was first delayed by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who spent hours going through the bill, tweeting out what he found – but after about 600 of the 2,232 pages, the Kentucky Republican called it quits.

“I will vote no because it spends too much and there’s just too little time to read the bill and let everyone know what’s actually in it,” Paul tweeted.

“Every Republican would vote against this disgusting pork bill if a Democrat were President,” said Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE).  “This spending kegger is a wildly irresponsible use of the taxpayers’ money.”

At the White House, officials acknowledged that if the GOP had 60 votes in the Senate to stop a filibuster, they would have designed a much different bill to the fund the operations of the federal government through the end of September.

But they still argued the measure funded a number of the President’s priorities.

“It funds national defense,” said White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney. “It funds opioids, it funds school safety.”

Earlier on Thursday, the House approved the bill on a vote of 256-167, as the two parties switched arguments from several years ago – when it was Republicans complaining about Democrats bringing a big bill to the floor with little time for review.

This time, it was Democrats echoing the Tea Party line of, “Read the bill!”

When the bill reached the Senate, Senators were ready to quickly approve the plan, and head out of town on a two-week break for Easter.

But the fine print caused some troubles, as Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID), reportedly objected to a provision put in the bill that would rename a park in his state after a former Governor, Cecil Andrus, described in home state press reports as a past rival.

In the hallways off the Senate floor, Risch was not interested in discussing the Idaho dust up with reporters.

The hours of waiting, which included a procedural vote that called on the Sergeant At Arms to request the presence of absent Senators – left one short-timer aggravated.

“This is juvenile,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who is not running for re-election this year.

“This is a ridiculous process that we go through where people extort us, until we get so tired, that we are willing to do whatever it is that they wish for us to do,” said Corker just before the clock struck midnight.

Corker said it would have been better to come back at 8 am and vote, but he backed off that threat, and allowed Senators to finish work on the Omnibus, which funds the government only through September 30.



Trending - Most Read Stories

Bomb at FedEx facility targeted Austin Med Spa employee, worker’s mom says

Published: Thursday, March 22, 2018 @ 11:01 PM

A Texas state flag flies outside a FedEx facility following an explosion on March 20, 2018 in Schertz, Texas. A package exploded while being transported on a conveyor shortly after midnight. 
Scott Olson/Getty Images
A Texas state flag flies outside a FedEx facility following an explosion on March 20, 2018 in Schertz, Texas. A package exploded while being transported on a conveyor shortly after midnight. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

A bomb found at a FedEx facility in Southeast Austin on Tuesday morning was addressed to an employee at Austin Med Spa, according to spa workers and the employee’s mother. 

>> Read more trending news 

Anita Ward, a nurse at Austin Med Spa, said FBI agents and Austin police told her Tuesday morning that her daughter, who also works at the spa in downtown Austin, was to be the recipient of the unexploded bomb at a FedEx sorting facility at 4117 McKinney Falls Parkway near Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. 

Ward, who did not want to give her daughter’s name, said her daughter does not know Mark Conditt, who police say terrorized Austin with a series of bomb attacks that left two people dead and five injured.

Anita Ward said Conditt also did not look familiar to anyone who works at the spa.

>> Related: Austin bombings: Click here for complete coverage

“We’ve been trying to just keep it in the down low just for the FBI and police,” Ward said. “All of us here are just very thankful for the FBI and police and the work they’ve been doing.”

“I got to see a little bit of the inside of (the investigative process) and they were very quick at checking and stopping this package, and so we completely 100 percent credit this to them for stopping this from being delivered to our office,” she said.

>> Related: Austin bomber on recording: ‘I wish I were sorry but I am not’ 

Ward’s daughter attends Austin Community College, but did not attend the school from 2010 to 2012, when Conditt was pursuing a business administration degree but did not graduate.

They’re still investigating, we’re still providing them information,” Ward said. “We pretty much know as much as (authorities) can release to us. We still have a lot of unanswered questions.”

For now, Ward said she and her daughter are scared but thankful for the work of the FBI and Austin police. “We’ve both been very actively concerned and involved with this, her being targeted.”

Common Traits Of A Serial Bomber

Police said the unexploded package at the FedEx facility in Southeast Austin was one of two sent from a Sunset Valley FedEx Office store. Authorities determined it was a bomb and detonated in a controlled manner, they said.

>> Related: Austin bomb victim's father thanks authorities in letter, questions son's death

The first three victims, all in East Austin, were two black men who were killed in the attacks and a Hispanic woman. Two white men were injured on Sunday when they accidentally triggered a trip wire attached to a bomb in Southwest Austin. Ward and her daughter are white.

Trending - Most Read Stories

Toys R Us closing sales: What you need to know when liquidation begins

Published: Thursday, March 22, 2018 @ 9:48 AM

Toys ‘R’ Us May Close All U.S. Stores

Shoppers looking for a bargain lined up at Toys R Us stores across the country to cash in on the liquidation sale that was expected to begin Thursday.

However, the sales have been postponed, according to multiple reports.

WYFF reported that a sign on the Greenville location stated that the liquidation sale was postponed until further notice.

The sales are now expected to start Friday, CNN Money reported.

But no matter when the sales start, experts told CNN Money that bargain hunters should be ready to go as soon as the sales begin.

Toys R Us announced last week it was closing or selling all of its stores in the United States, but shoppers need to act fast.

MORE: Toys R Us store locator

Industry experts say shelves will clear out quickly and the sale may only last about 30 days.

Inventory on the most popular toys are already slim, and whatever is left will be the first to go.

People with Toys R Us gift cards and Endless Earnings Gift Cards should use those first.

Toys R Us will not accept them after April 20.

>> Read more trending news 

Starting Thursday, stores will not be accepting coupons or rewards.

If you have a return, Toys R Us will accept items for the next 30 days, but anything purchased during the liquidation sale is final and cannot be returned.

Amazon, one of Toys R Us’ most fierce competitors, is apparently considering buying up some of the empty store fronts once Toys R Us officially closes.

Bloomberg is reporting that Amazon would like to expand its brick-and-mortar presence by acquiring some of those locations.

MORE: What happens to Toys R Us employees, gift cards?

The Seattle-based company recently bought Whole Foods and opened its own line of bookstores and convenience stores.

Toys R Us is closing 735 locations, and will lay off about 31,000 employees.

Before you shop, check your location. Some local stores were part of the initial closing announcement and have been liquidating for weeks.

EMERYVILLE, CA - MARCH 15: Customers enter a Toys R Us store on March 15, 2018 in Emeryville, California. Toys R Us filed for liquidation in a U.S. Bankruptcy court and plans to close 735 stores leaving 33,000 workers without employment. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Cox Media Group National Content Desk contributed to this report.

Trending - Most Read Stories