Two days ago, Kathryn Schulz of The New Yorker published a long form article about the likelihood of a major earthquake hitting the Pacific Northwest in the near-future. It was a scary read.
Here’s the TL; DR version:
Forget San Andreas. When the “Big One” hits the West Coast, it’ll be due to a fault line with a less sexy name — the Cascadia subduction zone. And then? According to Kenneth Murphy, director of FEMA’s Region X (encompassing Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Alaska), “Our operating assumption is that everything west of Interstate 5 will be toast.”
The chances of a major quake hitting in the next 50 years are one in three. The chances of a full-margin rupture — which implies a magnitude between 8.7 and 9.2 — are one in ten. The tsunami resulting from a full-margin rupture would be a “seven-hundred-mile liquid wall” racing simultaneously toward Japan and the Pacific Northwest.
The article goes on to state, “FEMA projects that nearly thirteen thousand people will die in the Cascadia earthquake and tsunami” — meaning it would become the most devastating natural disaster in the history of the United States. An early-warning system would mitigate the damage, but the Pacific Northwest has no such system in place. The losses are tough to even fathom. Entire towns would be flattened.*
The last major quake along the Cascadia subduction zone was 315 years ago. The average interval for seismic events along the fault over the past 10,000 years is 243 years. Translation: we’re so screwed.**
If you can carve out the time, the article is a great read (though not much fun if you’re the anxious-about-our-impending-doom type).
To better understand the Cascadia subduction zone, check out this episode of Uproxx’s The Truth from May 29.
*Not to mention the country’s artisanal mustache wax industry would collapse immediately.
**Unless The Rock decides to help us out, then we should be good.