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Professional Paper 1550-B

Prepared in cooperation with the National Science Foundation

The Loma Prieta, California, Earthquake of October 17, 1989—Forecasts

By Ruth A. Harris


map of California showing active faults

The magnitude (Mw) 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake struck the San Francisco Bay region of central California at 5:04 p.m. P.d.t. on October 17, 1989, killing 62 people and generating billions of dollars in property damage. Scientists were not surprised by the occurrence of a destructive earthquake in this region and had, in fact, been attempting to forecast the location of the next large earthquake in the San Francisco Bay region for decades. This paper summarizes more than 20 scientifically based forecasts made before the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake for a large earthquake that might occur in the Loma Prieta area. The forecasts geographically closest to the actual earthquake primarily consisted of right-lateral strike-slip motion on the San Andreas Fault northwest of San Juan Bautista. Several of the forecasts did encompass the magnitude of the actual earthquake, and at least one approximately encompassed the along-strike rupture length. The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake differed from most of the forecasted events in two ways: (1) it occurred with considerable dip-slip in addition to strike-slip motion, and (2) it was much deeper than expected.

Download the text of this publication as a 31-page PDF file (pp1550b.pdf; 5.1 MB)

For questions about the content of this report, contact Ruth Harris

This publication is part of the set of four multi-chapter USGS Professional Papers on the Loma Prieta, California, Earthquake of October 17, 1989:

Professional Paper 1550, Earthquake Occurrence , Coordinators: William H. Bakun and William H. Prescott

Professional Paper 1551, Strong Ground Motion and Ground Failure, Coordinator: Thomas L. Holzer

Professional Paper 1552, Performance of the Built Environment, Coordinator, Thomas L. Holzer

Professional Paper 1553, Societal Response, Coordinator: Dennis S. Mileti

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Maintained by: Michael Diggles
Created: July 10, 2006
Last modified: January 4, 2007 (mfd)