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Ready for the Big One

The headline in the Gilroy Dispatch on Oct. 13, 1989, was alarming enough: “Is World Series Quake Coming?”

Amazingly, it was. The magnitude-6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake struck four days later, killing 63 people, causing billions of dollars in damage and interrupting Game 3 of the World Series at Candlestick Park.

It also made a name for Jim Berkland, a county geologist who had given the newspaper that incredible prediction. Berkland, an employee for Santa Clara County who grew up in Glen Ellen, claimed to have developed new methods for doing what many scientists say is impossible: predicting earthquakes before they strike.

These days, the 83-year-old Berkland is back in Glen Ellen, living on the family property where he grew up. There he tends the grounds, cares for his wife, Jan, watches the birds from his front porch and continues his prognostications, issuing a monthly newsletter in which he scores his own previous predictions while making new ones.

“I’m certainly expecting at least a 3.5 to a 5.5,” he said earlier this week, referring to the magnitude of quake he predicts will occur sometime soon within 140 miles of Mount Diablo. The exact time frame – or “seismic window,” to use a phrase he coined years ago – for Berkland’s current prediction is between Jan. 29 and Feb. 5, and is based on “extreme tidal forces.”


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