Earthquakes and Weather

October 13, 2016
Earthquake Japan

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This week I’ve been asked a number of questions about earthquakes and weather. Is there “earthquake weather”? Is there any connection between earthquakes and weather? Will the impact of the giant event in Japan affect or alter weather?

Source: NEIC

Tales of “earthquake weather” – still, dry, almost breathless conditions that precede quakes – have existed since the ancient Greeks. They are myths. Earthquakes occur in any weather.

There are other stories of “earthquake clouds”, long straight clouds that form for days over a fault before it finally shakes. The theory is that the extreme stress prior to a quake may vaporize underground water. The phenomenon is being scientifically examined, but remain largely unproven.

It appears that most of these stories are based on the eternal hope that something can warn us ahead of time about these giant seismic events. Unlike hurricanes, tornadoes or volcano eruptions, we still cannot predict an earthquake early enough to save people’s lives.

Equally unproven is the idea that giant earthquakes affect weather. According to Italy’s National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology, Japan’s earthquake shifted the Earth’s axis by 9.8 inches and speeded the Earth’s rotation by 1.8 microseconds. If it created tidal waves around the entire Pacific, could it have altered a few atmospheric currents in the process?  

NOAA’s model of the potential impact of the tsunami caused by the Japanese earthquake
Source: NEIC

Scientists have studied the aftermaths of recent giant earthquakes in Indonesia (2004), Chile (2010), Haiti (2010) and New Zealand (2011). So far the only weather results that they have noted is slight local cooling when urban centers generate less warming energy due to the general devastation.

The research that appears most promising is focused on the impact of these giant quakes on volcano eruptions. If an explosion is large enough, its ashes can enter the stratosphere and block incoming sunlight, cooling the climate for a few years. Can a giant earthquake trigger one of these volcano eruptions?

Since 2000, scientists have satellite data that allows them to explore how earthquakes and volcanic activity may be linked. The ongoing research shows a lot of promise. However, the two volcano eruptions that may be linked to the Japanese event (Japan’s Shinmoedake and Indonesia’s Mt. Manado) are far too small to affect the climate.

In short, as tragic and immense as the recent earthquake has been, the forces of climate appear to be even greater and remain unshaken.

About This Blog

Are you a weather watcher? Welcome to “Weather Whispers” by James Garriss and until recently, Evelyn Browning Garriss. With expertise and humor, this column covers everything weather—from weather forecasts to WHY extreme weather happens to ways that weather affects your life from farming to your grocery bill. Enjoy weather facts, folklore, and fun!

With heavy hearts, we share the news that historical climatologist and immensely entertaining Almanac contributor Evelyn Browning Garriss passed away in late June 2017. Evelyn shared her lifetime of weather knowledge with Almanac editors and readers, explaining weather phenomena in conversation and expounding on topics in articles for the print edition of The Old Farmer’s Almanac as well as in these articles. We were honored to know and work with her as her time allowed, which is to say when she was not giving lectures to, writing articles for, and consulting with scientists, academia, investors, and government agencies around the world. She will be greatly missed by the Almanac staff and readers.