The phone call came to The Signal’s office around 1 p.m. on Thursday.
“We’re going to get another earthquake. It could happen today or two years from now, but based on the schedule I’ve observed, it’s due.”
Then at 6:08 p.m. Thursday, a magnitude 2.7 quake rattled Santa Clarita – minor by temblor standards but still noticeable. It was centered near Placerita Canyon Road, just west of Sierra Highway, at a depth of around 1,968 feet. No damage was reported.
“I didn’t predict it, don’t say that, it was just simple science,’’ the caller, Skip Newhall, was saying on Friday.
Newhall, a 78-year-old Valencia resident and brother of former Signal publisher Tony Newhall, also stressed he is not a seismologist, but rather an astronomer, now retired from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. His specialty is in the positions and orbits of planets and the moon.
It’s that expertise on heavenly bodies, combined with some general observations on recent California earthquake cycles, which led to Newhall’s forecast, he said.
Newhall said four recent major California earthquakes all occurred within 19- to 23-year cycles, with tectonic plates rubbing against each other all during those gaps, creating friction and building up energy that eventually needs to be released – the release being a quake.
Those quakes, he pointed out, were centered in Long Beach in 1933, Tehachapi in 1952 (a 19-year gap), Sylmar in 1971 (another 19-year gap) and Northridge in 1994 (a 23-year gap).
It’s now 23 years since the Northridge quake.
But that’s all seismology stuff … just his general observations, Newhall said.
Where his expertise comes in, he said, is in relation to moon. Newhall said that each of those major quakes occurred when the moon and sun were exerting their maximum tidal pulls on the earth.
“The moon exerts a tidal pull on the earth, but not just on the oceans, there’s also solid-body tides — the earth’s crust stretches,” Newhall said.
That “tidal pull” is at its maximum at a new moon and a full moon – and Thursday was just ahead of Friday’s new moon, it’s tidal pull effectively the same, he said.
That tidal pull, Newhall said, could be the final trigger mechanism to release 23 years of pent-up energy along geological plates.
“Did that release all the so-called start-up energy? Is there enough left over to trigger another in a month or two, or six? There might be, but nobody knows,’’ Newhall said.
So there’s no way to predict if Thursday’s 2.7 was all that’s coming, or just a foreshock. And Newhall is not going there.
“It’s much more complicated. … but the tidal stress was at its maximum (Thursday) for that particular time of the month, and sure enough that appears to be what could have triggered it.”
For the record, the next new moon is Feb. 26.
Of course, all this is just one man’s theory.
But hey, he did call it on Thursday.