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Shake And Bake: High Temps And A Quake

The Fourth of July weekend’s shake and bake of high temperatures and a small earthquake may have caused some short-term fear and consternation, but both events are linked to longer-term causes.

On July 2, temperatures at the Eugene airport were a record setting 101 degrees, and temperatures hovered in the 90s through much of the holiday weekend. Then, many of those who managed to sleep late despite the heat were woken at 8:42 am July 4 by a 4.2 magnitude earthquake centered 9 miles east-northeast of Springfield.

The earthquake rattled people from Valley River Center to Hwy. 58, according to responses EW received on social media. Speculations ranged from the idea that the quake was caused by fracking to hopes that this small quake means that it lessens the chances for the big Cascadia 9.0 or so earthquake Oregon is overdue for. 

Neither is true — Oregon really doesn’t have fracking wells, and Doug Toomey, a professor in geological sciences at the UO, says the recent 4.2 temblor is “mostly unrelated” to the Cascadia Subduction Zone that causes massive quakes in the Northwest every couple hundred years — the last one was in 1700.

Though Oregon seems relatively quiet when it comes to shaky ground, Toomey says the quake is “unusual on the human time frame and typical for Oregon on the geologic time frame.” He says that there are a lot of forces acting on Oregon in addition to the Cascadia fault, and this quake was a shallow crustal earthquake.

Toomey points out that the last damaging earthquakes in Oregon were really not that long ago. According to the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Resources, a 5.6 quake in 1993 caused more than $30 million in damages in the Portland metro area, and that same year two magnitude 6.0 earthquakes hit the Klamath Falls area, causing over $10 million in damages and killing one person.

 “The real issue is that we are short-timers here,” Toomey says, “and geology plays out over longer time scale.” 

Unlike earthquakes, which we can’t prevent but can prepare for, the current spate of hot weather is a harbinger of what we can prevent — climate change. Scientists at Oregon State University are exploring whether a patch of warm water in the Pacific Ocean they are calling The Blob is linked to the current West Coast drought. 

The Blob’s water is 4 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than normal, says Phil Mote, one of the principal investigators and the director of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute. He says, “Four degrees may not sound like much, but that kind of anomaly in the ocean is huge.”

According to Mote, Oregon has had a “one-two-three punch.” He says, “We’re getting warm winters, followed by a dry February through April period, and fairly warm but unusually dry summers.” He adds, “In the past, when we’ve had droughts, things look bad initially from a snowpack standpoint, but cool, wet March and April months bailed us out. We’re haven’t gotten those the past two years.”

A research team will be running hundreds of variations of computer models aimed at calculating the influence of The Blob on West Coast climate, comparing oceanographic and climate data, including observed sea surface temperatures.

OSU researchers say because the amount of data is “staggering,” they are asking people to allow them to use their individual personal computers during idle time to run the climate-modeling simulations.

To participate in the computer-modeling project, go to wkly.ws/21j. For more on disaster preparedness, go to opdr.uoregon.edu.