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.

Reader Comments

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Weather patterns

I firmly believe that the earthquake in Japan has had an impact on the wind and weather patterns on a global basis. Since the earthquake the wind here in northern Arizona was constantly blowing night and day, usually it would only blow during the day, since the earthquake it frequently blew throughout the night as well. It has also been colder. I believe that the westerlies may have changed both in speed and air flow patterns. I have tried to find a website where I could see how the westerlies would have normally blown and how it has changed since the earthquake. I believe that it was not the earthquake that created the atmospheric changes but rather the tsunami and the winds created by the tsunami. I believe that the polar winds may be blowing farther down closer to the equator than normal. This would create significant weather changes throughout the globe...increased tornados, flooding, faster ice cap/glacier melting. I predict severe weather phenomenon on June 27,2011 and November 3 of 2011.
Along with the rapidly rising gas prices I am recommending that people winterize thier homes now...before winter. I believe that the forthcoming winter will arrive sooner, last longer and be tremendously more severe than of winters past. Increased Ice storms, power outages, severe food shortages and extreme gas prices will have a devasting effect on the American economy.

Earthquake clouds

I've researched HAARP, and found Earthquake clouds were photographed in China before the large Earthquake happened; around the time of the Olympics. Many questioned the meaning of these "full spectrum" vapor clouds in the sky. Truly an interesting phenomenon. This has sparked many to come to their own conclusions.

Earthquake impact

Will the impact of the giant event in Japan affect or alter weather?

The short answer is "No".

The more complete answer is:

Many events change Earth's axis, rotation and geography by small to minuscule amounts. The "butterfly effect" metaphor illustrates the concept of sensitive dependence on initial conditions that is part of chaos theory - the concept being that even a tiny change at one place in a complex system can lead to large changes over time.

And so, we can't completely rule out that the changes to the Earth from the earthquake and tsunami will significantly alter the weather or even the climate.

I can even postulate a mechanism whereby this might happen. Since the main island of Japan has shifted 2.4 meters and there are various changes in the sea floor, it is not impossible that this could shift the prevailing marine currents, which could result in an alteration of the prevailing atmospheric patterns, resulting in a change in both the weather and the climate. As these patterns in one part of the world change, they would alter the patterns in other parts of the world. And so, it is not impossible that this would result in a significant change in global climate.

However, every day there are billions or trillions of butterfly wing flaps, not to mention all the other localized occurrences (like my getting my mail or opening and closing my car door). Each of the trillions of trillions of trillions of tiny events that happen every day has the potential to amplify and, through the "butterfly effect", change the earth's weather or even its climate. But, ALMOST without exception, they don't.

And while the construction of a building certainly alters the local weather in some way (even if only to change the wind so it blows around the building rather than through it), it ALMOST never changes the earth's climate.

So, can I state unequivocally that the events in Japan won't change the earth's weather and climate, potentially even to the point of bringing on a new ice age? No, I can't say that.

But I can say that while it's not impossible, the odds of it having any noticeable effect are so low that the short answer is "No".

What if a series of

What if a series of earthquakes on the ocean floor happened at once,could that change the weather?I mean it would have to change the currents,which is the basic element of the weather cycle right?And not just around japan but all around.


the ancient perspective is something I hadn't read about. very interesting. it's extremely tragic for Earth's people...though it seems to affect Earth, the planet, very little.


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