51°F
weather icon Partly Cloudy

More aftershocks possible, but chances of earthquake in Las Vegas low

Updated July 7, 2019 - 12:33 am

Nevada faces a low potential of California’s 7.1 magnitude earthquake on Friday triggering a seismic event along one of its many fault lines, according to an earthquake expert.

The potential of a larger event being triggered is low in general, according to geophysicist John Bellini of the U.S. Geological Survey, but the distance between the activity that rattled Southern California and Nevada’s fault lines makes earthquakes here even less likely to be triggered.

“There’s always some mathematical chance it will have an effect and cause an earthquake,” but it is a very low chance, he said.

The shaking that sent light fixtures swinging and halted professional basketball games Friday night in Las Vegas is about the extent of what Southern Nevadans can expect to feel from the seismic activity that has shaken California since Thursday, Bellini said.

Las Vegas missed the brunt of the wave because of the shape of the fault, Bellini said.

“Because of the angle of the fault — it ran from southeast to northwest — the strongest effects are off the ends,” he said.

Las Vegas was about 150 miles away from the epicenter of Friday’s earthquake, and at that distance, the shaking in Southern Nevada generally won’t cause damage.

“The shaking or ground motion that one feels is a function of how far away you are from the epicenter for sure, but it also depends on what kind of rock or soil you are currently on,” said Nathan Niemi, a professor of geological sciences at the University of Michigan. “Las Vegas sits in a large basin. One effect of that is it can amplify the seismic waves, so you feel it more strongly than you would in a location in a different direction.”

Bellini said Southern California probably will face aftershocks for the next few weeks, but none is expected to extend to the Las Vegas Valley.

Closer to home

Nevada is one of the most seismically active states in the country, Bellini said.

Although the Las Vegas Valley is streaked with fault lines, the Carson City area is among the places in the state with the highest seismic hazard potential, according to a 2014 USGS map.

Fault lines exist on many major streets across the Las Vegas Valley, appropriately titled the West Charleston, Decatur, Valley View, Whitney Mesa, Cashman, and Eglington faults. And on the easternmost portion of the valley, the Frenchman Mountain Fault extends from Nellis Air Force Base to McCarran International Airport.

Earthquakes in and around Las Vegas and Nevada, while infrequent, have occurred throughout recent history.

“It’s been a while in the Basin range,” Niemi said. “In Nevada, eastern California and Utah, chances are we can expect earthquakes. We had one in the 1950s in north-central Nevada, a big one in 1983 in southern Idaho. A couple decades (between major quakes) is to be expected.”

Faults in Nevada have earthquakes less frequently than California or Alaska, but the magnitudes can be just as large, UNLV geology professor Wanda Taylor said.

“Just because they’re less frequent, it doesn’t make the faults less dangerous,” she said.

Taylor said her team is trying to figure out which faults might be most hazardous to the Las Vegas Valley. It’s possible they are all equally hazardous, she said.

The biggest hazard is likely a fault in the Death Valley area that is capable of having a larger-magnitude earthquake than what is in the Las Vegas Valley, Taylor said.

But the likelihood of an earthquake in or around the Las Vegas Valley is still in question, Taylor said.

“That’s what we’re trying to do research on,” she said.

Impossible to predict

Taylor said there is a general understanding that most of the faults in the Las Vegas Valley could produce a magnitude 6.2 or 6.5 earthquake. One fault along Frenchman Mountain could produce a magnitude 7, but Taylor said that seems large.

“Most of the faults in and around Las Vegas are on the order of 10 to 100 kilometers long,” Niemi said. “Even if one slips from one end to the other, it really can’t produce much larger than a 7 to a 7.5-magnitude in Nevada, Utah and eastern California.”

That doesn’t mean the effects wouldn’t be damaging.

“Where the earthquake happens is as big as how strong it is,” Niemi said.

Once the ground starts to shake, damage to surrounding areas becomes an engineering question, Taylor said. But building codes in Clark County were updated in the 1990s to improve seismic safety, she said.

“It’s not the same level as California, but it’s the next level below that,” she said.

But, she said, many resorts are built above code in terms of seismic safety.

A significant danger the valley would face is the potential for bridges and overpasses to collapse, she said. The Nevada Department of Transportation said roads and bridges are engineered with earthquakes in mind.

UNLV geology professor Gene Smith said there is no way of predicting when an earthquake will occur, but the odds of a devastating earthquake in Las Vegas are “astronomically low.”

“Las Vegas itself is a pretty safe place in comparison to Los Angeles or San Francisco or even Reno,” he said.

Contact Blake Apgar at bapgar@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5298. Follow @blakeapgar on Twitter. Sabrina Schnur can be reached at sschnur@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0278. Follow @sabrina_schnur on Twitter. Lukas Eggen can be reached at leggen@reviewjournal.com. Follow @LukasEggen on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Local Videos
Jeopardy! James competes with G2E attendees
Jeopardy! champ James Holzhauer, appears at the G2E IGT booth to help celebrate launch of Jeopardy! slot machines and compete against attendees in mock games of Jeopardy!
Security guard killed in Las Vegas shooting honored
ERICK SILVA WAS KILLED PROTECTING OTHER DURING THE MASS SHOOTING AT THE ROUTE 91 FESTIVAL. HE IS BEING REMEMBERED TODAY AND A PLAGUE WAS PRESENTED IN HIS HONOR AT THE EAST COMMUNITY CENTER
Lucky's unexpected surprise
The Ball family, who already deals with challenges most families don’t, got an unexpected surprise from a security systems worker, who brought more than just peace of mind, he brought love to one lucky little boy.
Gilcrease pumpkin patch is open - VIDEO
Gilcrease Orchard's pumpkin patch is now open for the season. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas firefighters battle a fire in a commercial area - VIDEO
Clark County and Las Vegas firefighters battle a fire in a commercial area at 824 E. Sahara Ave. in Las Vegas on Monday, Oct. 7, 2019. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Time lapse of RiSE Las Vegas festival - VIDEO
This is a time-lapse video during the sixth annual RiSE Las Vegas festival at the Jean dry lake bed on Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Lanterns released into Nevada desert as part of RiSE Festival - VIDEO
Thousands of spectators released giant lanterns into the sky at a dry lake bed near Jean, Nev., Sunday night as part of the RiSE festival. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Halloween Parade at Downtown Summerlin - VIDEO
Halloween festivities are in full swing at Downtown Summerlin with the first week of the month-long parade. (James Schaeffer/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Funeral procession for Robbie James Pettingill - VIDEO
A motorcade of Henderson fire and police personnel escort the body of firefighter Robbie James Pettingill past Fire Station 82 and Fire Station 97, where he was last assigned, to Central Christian Church on Friday, Oct. 4, 2019. (Renee Summerour/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Failure not an option for Mayor Carolyn Goodman facing breast cancer - VIDEO
Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman and her oncologist talk about Goodman's second bout with breast cancer. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Hacienda bridge closures for events at Allegiant Stadium - VIDEO
The bridge at Hacienda Avenue over Interstate 15 will be closed during major events at Allegiant Stadium. (James Schaeffer/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Backyard Adventures at the Springs Preserve - VIDEO
"Backyard Adventures" is the latest temporary exhibit at the Springs Preserve. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Parents of teens who were killed in California crash visited the crash site - VIDEO
Parents of Las Vegas teens who were killed in a fiery crash last year in Huntington Beach, Calif., visited the crash site on Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutefsya
Bani Duarte convicted in California crash that killed 3 Las Vegas teens - VIDEO
Bani Duarte, the drunken driver who caused a fiery crash in Huntington Beach, California, last year that killed three Las Vegas teens, was convicted of second-degree murder on Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019. (Renee Summerour/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Wrap-up of Oct. 1 observances - VIDEO
A wrap-up of memorials and observances on the second anniversary of the mass shooting on the Las Vegas Strip, Oct. 1, 2019. (Renee Summerour/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Victims of Oct. 1 shooting in Las Vegas remembered - VIDEO
Remembrance video honors the 58 people who were killed at the Route 91 Harvest festival on Oct. 1, 2017, on the Las Vegas Strip. (Clark County)
UNLV music program rings bell 58 times to remember victims of Oct. 1 shooting - Video
UNLV music students will ring a set of chimes 58 times in honor of the victims of the Route 91 Harvest festival shooting. (Nathan Asselin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Memorial bench unveiled at North Las Vegas park to honor Route 91 victims and survivors - VIDEO
The family of Route 91 victim Neysa Tonks worked with the city of North Las Vegas to erect a memorial bench overlooking a pond at Craig Ranch Regional Park. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Gov. Steve Sisolak and Joe Robbins Speak at Oct. 1 Remembrance Ceremony - Video
Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak and Joe Robbins speak to the crowd at the Clark County Government Center Amphitheater to remember the victims of the 1 Oct. shooting that occurred in 2017 at the Route 91 festival. (Michael Quine and Nathan Asselin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Day 6 of Bani Duarte trial in California
Police say Bani Duarte, 29, was drunk when she drove into a car carrying four Las Vegas teens, killing three, in Huntington Beach, California on March 29, 2018. She is being tried on murder charges in Santa Ana. (Renee Summeropur/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Troy and Shannon Zeeman talk about life after Oct 1 shooting - VIDEO
Troy and Shannon Zeeman of Garden Grove, California, discuss life after Oct 1 shooting in Las Vegas. The couple started Security Consultant Zeeman, dedicated to active shooter preparedness training. (Elizabeth Brumley/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Reflecting on Oct. 1: How Metro officers saved a life
Oct. 1 was the second day on the job for Officer Brandon Engstrom who saved a critically injured woman amid the chaos of the Route 91 shooting. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Healing Garden remains a gathering place
It's been two years since the mass shooting of Oct. 1, and the Healing Garden has grown and evolved. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas police investigate fatal crash - VIDEO
Las Vegas police investigate fatal crash at the intersection of West Sahara Avenue and Steve Rigazio Court in Las Vegas on Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2019. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Reflecting on Oct. 1: How one officer saved a life
Oct. 1 was the second day on the job for Officer Brandon Engstrom who saved a critically injured woman amid the chaos of the Route 91 shooting. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
76 animals confiscated from North Las Vegas home - VIDEO
Service dogs, birds, a pig and other animals were confiscated from the North Las Vegas home of an animal activist and former actress. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Mother, child and 41 dogs rescued after North Las Vegas house fire - VIDEO
North Las Vegas PIO Patrick Walker talks about a house fire in North Las Vegas where a mother, her child and 41 dogs were rescued on Sept. 24, 2019. (Max Michor/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Miracle Flights greets patient ambassador Michael Perrino in Las Vegas - VIDEO
The Miracle Flights team welcomes 16-year-old Michael Perrino and his family to Las Vegas for their annual Swings for Wings fundraiser at TopGolf. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Storm Area 51 Day 3 Update 1
Area 51 Basecamp in Hiko is canceled after a lackluster Day 1, according to event executive producer Keith Wright. Alienstock in Rachel will go on for its third day. (Renee Summerour/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Live music and EDM dominate the night on day 2 of A’Le’Innstock
After sunset bands rocked the crowds at A’Le’Innstock in Rachel, Nevada on the second night of the event.
Cat survives 15-mile commute in car bumper
A Las Vegas Review-Journal employee was surprised to learn she had a passenger during her 15.5-mile commute to the office on a September Sunday. (Tony Morales & James Schaeffer/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Shortages of OB-GYN doctors in the Las Vegas Valley - Video
Dr. Michael Gardner discusses the shortages of OB-GYN doctors that will happen and what steps are being taken to entice them to come or stay in the Las Vegas area.
Southern Nevada is in a West Nile virus hot zone - VIDEO
Southern Nevada, along with Central Arizona and Southern California, make up a “hot zone” that is reporting the highest number of mosquito-borne West Nile virus cases in the country. The Southern Nevada Health District recently reported 28 cases of West Nile virus in Clark County. (Le'Andre Fox/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Paul Browning Released from Ely State Prison - VIDEO
Paul Browning greets his mother, Betty Browning, after being released from Ely State Prison. Browning served 33 years on Nevada’s death row. (Rachel Crosby/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Mother upset over her child's cornea donation being sent overseas - Video
Lindsey LiCari, the mother of Ayden and founder of Ayden's Army of Angels, is upset that her child's corneas were sent overseas and was told that she would be able to see her son's eyes again. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Aviators splash pad lets fans stay cool
Las Vegas Ballpark’s splash pad area is the perfect place to keep cool while enjoying the game. (Cassie Soto/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
THE LATEST
Earthquakes felt in Las Vegas strained major fault, study says

The earthquakes that hammered the Southern California desert near the town of Ridgecrest last summer involved ruptures on a web of interconnected faults and increased strain on a major nearby fault that has begun to slowly move, according to a new study.