"No. Neither the USGS nor any other scientists have ever predicted a major earthquake. We do not know how, and we do not expect to know how any time in the foreseeable future.
However, based on scientific data, probabilities can be calculated for potential future earthquakes. For example, scientists estimate there is a 76% probability that a magnitude 7 earthquake will occur within the next 30 years in northern California. The probability is 75% for southern California (see our Earthquake Forecast Fact Sheet).
The USGS focuses its efforts on the long-term mitigation of earthquake hazards by helping to improve the safety of structures, rather than by trying to accomplish short-term predictions."
However, the USGS and other scientists are working on an earthquake early warning (EEW) system for the United States. EEW systems cannot predict earthquakes, but instead detect an earthquake just after it begins. Such systems can provide anywhere from a few seconds to minutes of warning, giving time for people to prepare and take cover.
EEW systems are already operating in several countries including Japan, Turkey, and Mexico. The USGS has tested a demonstration EEW system in California called ShakeAlert and has published a plan to expand the system to be able to issue public alerts.
- Earthquake Early Warning (Webpage), U.S. Geological Survey
Basic overview of earthquake early warning systems, which provide seconds to minutes of warning about an earthquake after it has occurred
- ShakeAlert—An Earthquake Early Warning System for the United States West Coast (Short Report), U.S. Geological Survey
A basic four-page report with information about earthquake early warning and the ShakeAlert demonstration system being developed in California
- National Earthquake Prediction Evaluation Council (Website), U.S. Geological Survey
Reports and information about the state of earthquake prediction as evaluated by a council of earthquake experts.
- Working Group on California Earthquake Probabilities (Website), U.S. Geological Survey, National Science Foundation, California Geological Survey, Southern California Earthquake Center, California Earthquake Authority
Information on the work this multi-organization group is doing to assess the probability of earthquakes in different parts of California