The July 5 Ridgecrest/China Lake earthquake got a lot of attention for its impact on California, less on Nevada.
The 7.1 quake overlapped the Golden and Silver States, which is not surprising because earthquake fault “systems” are shared by the two states.
Before Ridgecrest/China Lake, dozens of small earthquakes were recorded in the area of Sun Valley, north of Reno on June 21. That followed a June 6 temblor in Washoe Valley to the south that was recorded at 3.7. After those events, one official—geophysicist Graham Kent at the Nevada Seismological Lab—had suggested to the Associated Press that “we’ve sort of built in a sense of complacency” from having few major quakes in Nevada.
When the Ridgecrest quake hit, numerous state and local officials in Nevada gave quotes to newspeople assuring that the state is ready for any major quake.
In the era of whites in the Great Basin, there have been at least four earthquakes of 7.1 or higher affecting Nevada, although Las Vegas and Reno were spared most of the effects of all four.
On Oct. 2, 1915, a 7.75 earthquake hit Pleasant Valley—not the Pleasant Valley in Washoe County, but a site of the same name east of Lovelock, south of Winnemucca, and west of Battle Mountain. It did some damage in the mining camp of Kennedy and was felt from the coast to Salt Lake City.
On Dec. 20, 1932, a 7.1 hit in the Cedar Mountain area, northeast of Mina, east of Luning. The U.S. Geological Survey’s Earthquake History of the United States reads in part, “Since the region was uninhabited except for an occasional miner or sheepherder, little damage occurred.” In fact, damage occurred at Hawthorne, Mina and Luning.
On May 18, 1940, a 7.1 earthquake that was centered in California’s Imperial Valley was felt in Arizona, Nevada and Mexico. It affected 60,000 square miles.
On Dec. 16, 1954, a 7.1 hit in Nevada’s Dixie Valley east of Fallon. Cracks—now mostly filled in—were left in Dixie Valley. Goods were thrown off grocery shelves in Fallon, and new wells appeared in the region.
At Reader Supported News, Harvey Wasserman sketched out a narrative of what might have happened last week at the site of defunct power plants:
“Had Friday’s 7.1 earthquake and other ongoing seismic shocks hit less than 200 miles northwest of Ridgecrest/China Lake, 10 million people in Los Angeles would now be under an apocalyptic cloud, their lives and those of the state and nation in radioactive ruin. The likely human death toll would be in the millions. The likely property loss would be in the trillions. The forever damage to our species’ food supply, ecological support systems, and longterm economy would be very far beyond any meaningful calculation. The threat to the ability of the human race to survive on this planet would be extremely significant. The two cracked, embrittled, under-maintained, unregulated, uninsured and un-inspected atomic reactors at Diablo Canyon, near San Luis Obispo, would be a seething radioactive ruin.”
And Nevada is downwind of California.