TIME Natural Disasters

California Wildfire Almost Doubles in Size Overnight

California wildfire in Lake County
Noah Berger—EPA Firefighters Richard Dykhouse, left, and Dan McCabe confer as the Rocky fire burns near Clearlake, Calif. on Aug. 2, 2015.

Massive blaze west of Sacramento now covers 46,000 acres

A massive wildfire west of Sacramento, California, spanned 46,000 acres Sunday, up from 27,000 acres the previous evening.

The Rocky Fire, in Lake County, was just 5 percent contained on Sunday morning, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Dozens of buildings, including 24 houses, have been destroyed in the blaze.

And another 6,000 buildings are threatened by the fire, which sparked in the drought-stricken state on Wednesday.

Multiple areas near the fire were under mandatory evacuation orders, and parts of several highways were closed down, according to Cal Fire.

Nearly 2,000 firefighters were battling the blaze…

Read more from our partners at NBC News

TIME Natural Disasters

This Is What It’s Like to Get Caught in an Avalanche

A helmet cam video shows what it's like to get buried by snow

It’s every skier’s worst nightmare, but one that can indeed be survived.

Kristoffer Carlsson survived an avalanche while skiing in 2011, and brought back helmet-cam video of the snow burying him. Experts say that the best way to survive in Carlsson’s scary situation is to do exactly what he did: Use your hands to create a pocket of air as the snow falls.

TIME Natural Disasters

Yes, California Could Be at Risk of a Tsunami

Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc

According to a study released suspiciously close to the release of blockbuster San Andreas

The San Andreas Fault strikes fear in the hearts of Californians. It could shift at any time and cause a devastating earthquake. Now, new research shows there’s two other fault lines off the state’s coast that could rock Los Angeles and potentially cause a small-scale tsunami.

The study, to be published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface, shows that two underwater faults are building up stress much like the San Andreas fault and could rupture in the same way as their famous inland counterpart and generate a 8.0 magnitude earthquake. And if one does, Los Angeles and San Diego may need to prepare for a tsunami — though a relatively small one.

Read More: 3 Places Where the Next Big Earthquake Could Hit

“We’re dealing with continental collision,” said study author Mark Legg in a press release. “That’s fundamental. That’s why we have this mess of a complicated logjam.” Legg, who runs an earthquake consulting firm, has spent decades mapping off-shore faults.

In a no-doubt-purely-coincidental turn of events, the study was published just as Dwayne Johnson disaster movie San Andreas has shaken up the box office with a fictional earthquake and tsunami that leave Los Angeles and San Francisco in ruins. Seismologists say that an actual earthquake would never look anything like the one in the movie. And, while this new research suggests the possibility of tsunami, the wave wouldn’t look anything like the city-destroying one featured in the movie.

“We aren’t going to have a tsunami,” said U.S. Geological Survey seismologist Lucile Jones. “Or if we did it wouldn’t behave like the one in the movie.”

TIME Natural Disasters

Here’s What Seismologists Have to Say About the Science of ‘San Andreas’

California's probably not experiencing a tsunami anytime soon

The earthquakes at the center of San Andreas, the Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson disaster movie that hits theaters Friday, are so powerful that they seem to destroy anything and everything across the state of California. The Los Angeles and San Francisco skylines crumble in what we’re told is the strongest earthquake of all time—a magnitude 9.6 on the Richter scale.

But it turns out a 9.6 earthquake would be impossible along the San Andreas fault—at least according to seismologists. And that’s just the start of errors that make the movie somewhat less than factual. Here’s what seismologists are calling into question:

1. The size of the earthquake

An earthquake along the San Andreas fault couldn’t exceed a magnitude 8.2, according to U.S. Geological Survey seismologist Lucile Jones. That’s 126 times weaker than the imagined earthquake in the movie. (Because of the logarithmic basis of the Richter scale, each whole number increase in the rating means a tenfold increase in the magnitude of the quake.) There have been much more powerful earthquakes, including a magnitude 9.5 in Chile in 1960, the largest ever. But those have occurred only in subduction zones, where two plates meet and one sinks beneath the other. The San Andreas, a transform fault, is the meeting place of small tectonic plates that are slipping away from each other.

2. The damage an earthquake could cause

A 2008 study found that a worst-case scenario earthquake of 7.8 magnitude in Southern California could cause $213 billion in damage and leave 1,800 people dead and 50,000 severely injured. A total of five high-rises and 1,500 smaller buildings would be expected to collapse across the city. But those figures, while dramatic, seem small compared to the number of skyscrapers we see crumbling left and right and the countless people who burn, drown or fall from fatal heights in San Andreas. To be fair, the Rock never stops to give the audience precise death tolls or injury numbers—he’s too busy saving jumping out of a moving plane, out maneuvering a tsunami and, ultimately, saving his family. But with Los Angeles essentially razed and San Francisco largely underwater or on fire, it seems like the potential devastation is beyond what could ever happen in real life.

3. The earthquake triggered a massive tsunami

In addition to facing several earthquakes and a seemingly endless number of aftershocks, the characters in San Andreas have to confront a tsunami of gargantuan proportions. That’s flat out impossible, seismologists say. There’s a small possibility that a California earthquake could trigger an offshore landslide, which might in turn trigger a small tsunami that hits California. But that tsunami would be much, much smaller than the one in the movie—which seems to swamp all of San Francisco—and only hit a very narrow part of the coast.

Read More: 3 Places Where the Next Big Earthquake Could Hit

4. A California earthquake could be felt on the East Coast

An earthquake in California may be felt in Nevada and other neighboring states, but it would never be felt on the East Coast. Certainly, it wouldn’t cause damage to the White House as San Andreas suggests.

5. Seismologists can predict earthquakes

In San Andreas, Paul Giamatti plays a California Institute of Technology (Caltech) who has discovered the key to predicting when and where earthquakes can occur. But real-life Caltech assistant professor Jean-Paul Ampuero says predicting earthquakes is not something seismologists are even close to doing. He called it the “holy grail” of seismology. Seismologists wish they could discover a way to predict earthquakes, but most evidence suggests it’s impossible. That said, some disaster preparedness experts advocate for an early warning systems that will alert people to an approaching earthquake. This technology doesn’t predict earthquakes but rather alerts affected residents that one has begun.

But San Andreas got one thing right: you should prepare for an earthquake

While seismologists panned the science in San Andreas, they praised its focus on preparedness. The main characters know exactly what to do when the big one hits. One character tells people to get under a table and hold. Another points out that landlines will still work when cellular service is down and directs people to higher ground when there’s a tsunami warning.

“Although the science part is wrong, that’s not going to be your experience of an earthquake. Your experience is going to be an emotional experience,” said Jones. “I would hope people look at this and say ‘I really want to get some of that emergency response training.’”

TIME Infectious Disease

Bill Gates Thinks This Is the Deadliest Threat to Humankind

Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft and co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, speaks at a breakfast meeting with the theme "Dialogue: Technology Innovation for a Sustainable Future" during the Boao Forum For Asia Annual Conference 2015 in Qionghai city, south Chinas Hainan province, 29 March 2015.
Cui hao—Imaginechina/AP Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft and co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, speaks at a breakfast meeting with the theme "Dialogue: Technology Innovation for a Sustainable Future" during the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference 2015 in Qionghai city, China's Hainan province, on March 29, 2015

He says it could kill tens of millions

In the next 20 years, is it likely that nuclear war, gigantic earthquakes or asteroids could kill 20 million people? Bill Gates doesn’t think so.

But he did tell Vox that such numbers could be felled by a major outbreak of disease — something the 59-year-old billionaire believes has a “well over 50%” chance of happening in his lifetime.

“The Ebola epidemic showed me that we’re not ready for a serious epidemic, an epidemic that would be more infectious and would spread faster than Ebola did. This is the greatest risk of a huge tragedy,” Gates said, claiming that a serious epidemic could kill more than 10 million people a year.

Read more at Vox

TIME weather

Forecasters Predict ‘Below Average’ 2015 Hurricane Season—But Threats Still Lurk

hurricane NOAA prediction 2015
Getty Images

'We always hope for the best and prepare for the worst'

Forecasters expect this year’s tropical storm season to be weaker than usual with zero to two major hurricanes predicted to affect the United States, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced Wednesday.

The announcement came days before the official start of the Atlantic hurricane season on June 1. Hurricane season typically lasts until the end of November.

Overall, the agency predicted 6 to 11 named storms with winds of 39 mph or greater and 3 to 6 hurricanes with wind speeds of 74 mph or greater. Despite the “below average” prediction, officials from NOAA and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) stressed that communities typically affected by hurricanes, particularly along the Gulf Coast, should still prepare for the worst.

“No matter how many pitches Mother Nature throws at us, from only a few to a whole lot, if just one of those pitches gets through the strike zone we can be in for a lot of trouble,” said NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan at a press conference. “Below average doesn’t mean no pitches get thrown our way.”

The El Niño weather phenomenon, which began this spring, is at least in part responsible for the suppression of storm activity, Sullivan said.El Niño tends to increase wind shear, the difference in wind speed and direction over a relatively short distance, which in turn subsequently slows down storm formation and growth.

In the NOAA press conference, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said that his city is better prepared to handle a major hurricane today than it was when the Hurricane Katrina hit 10 years ago as a Category 3 hurricane, killing more than 1,800 people—but he stressed that city residents should still prepare.It’s also important to remember that a storm doesn’t necessarily have to be powerful in order to wreck a lot of havoc. Superstorm Sandy wasn’t technically strong enough to be rated as a hurricane when it made landfall in New Jersey on Oct. 29, 2012—yet it caused north of $60 billion in damage because of its sheer size and because it squarely hit some richest, most populated coastal territory in the U.S. There’s no way to predict today where any hurricanes that may form in 2015 could make landfall—and location matters as much as strength.

“We always hope for the best and prepare for the worst,” he said. “We have a lot of work to do, but we’ve learned a lot of the path.”

TIME Nepal

Nepal Rocked by Massive Fresh Earthquake

The country is still coping with the aftermath of a major quake on April 25

Nepal was hit Tuesday morning by another major earthquake, this time measuring 7.3 on the Richter magnitude scale. The epicenter was located 76 km east of the capital Kathmandu, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Nepalese home ministry officials said at least 65 people were killed in the quake across three countries, CNN reports, including at least 17 in India. Another was killed in Tibet, and the Nepal Home Ministry said the total injury toll across the region is now 1,926.

The quake, which was centered near Mt Everest, was strong enough to topple yet more buildings and cause further landslides in Nepal, as well as in northern India. The impact was felt as far away as New Delhi. Areas to the northeast of Kathmandu were said to be worst hit by the strong temblor, with 31 of the country’s 75 districts affected.

The country is still recovering from a devastating quake on April 25 that claimed over 8,000 lives.

Read next: How Photographers Are Using Instagram to Help Nepal

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Chile

See Chile’s Villarrica Volcano Light Up the Night Sky

The Villarrica Volcano at night in Pucon town, Chile on May 10, 2015.
Cristobal Saavedra—Reuters The Villarrica Volcano at night in Pucon town, Chile on May 10, 2015.

The active volcano glows through the night

The Villarrica Volcano in southern Chile is the most active volcano in South America.

In March the volcano, which is located near the tourist resort Pucon, erupted and caused thousands of people to evacuate. This photograph was taken May 10, and depicts the view of the volcano from the city.

TIME movies

San Andreas Is Still Going to Be Released in May Despite the Nepal Earthquake

Dwayne Johnson, a cast member in the upcoming film "San Andreas," poses before the Warner Bros. presentation at CinemaCon 2015 at Caesars Palace on Tuesday, April 21, 2015, in Las Vegas
Chris Pizzello—Invision/AP Dwayne Johnson, a cast member in the upcoming film San Andreas, poses before the Warner Bros. presentation at CinemaCon 2015 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas on April 21, 2015

Warner Bros. says it will disseminate information about how people can donate to Nepal earthquake relief

Warner Bros. will stick to the original release date of May 29 for its earthquake blockbuster San Andreas despite the devastating tremblor in Nepal, Variety reports.

A studio spokesperson said Wednesday the company debated over moving the release date, but instead chose to alter promotional materials to include information about how people can donate to relief efforts in Nepal. They also accelerated an original public-service campaign that educates people on natural disaster safety and adjusted the messaging to encompass events in Nepal, Variety said.

The trailers and posters, however, will not be changed.

“We will continue to evaluate our worldwide marketing campaign to ensure that we are sensitive to those affected by this tragic event,” a Warner Bros. spokesperson told Variety.

The movie features Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson and Carla Gugino as an estranged couple who travels from Los Angeles to San Francisco to save their daughter after California’s San Andreas fault suffers a magnitude-9 earthquake. The trailer features scenes of Los Angeles skyscrapers tumbling and a massive tsunami bearing down on San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.

Nepalese police said Thursday morning the death toll from the magnitude-7.8 earthquake had topped 5,500 people across India, Bangladesh, China and Nepal, with an estimated 11,440 injured.


TIME Natural Disasters

3 Places Where the Next Big Earthquake Could Hit

"Anytime you dump that amount of kinetic energy into a major city, bad things will happen"

The earthquake that devastated Nepal on Saturday came as a shock to much of the world—but for seismologists and disaster preparedness advocates, it was no surprise. Experts have long warned that the country’s vulnerable location at the meeting of two tectonic plates and its slim economic resources made for the perfect storm.

Now, seismologists say that several spots around the world face the potential for an earthquake as least as devastating as the one that hit Kathmandu. “Anytime you dump that amount of kinetic energy into a major city, bad things will happen,” said Gregory Beroza, a Stanford University seismologist.

This map shows the places that are most likely to experience intense earthquakes (in red), based on a 1999 projection.


Here are some of the cities that most concern seismologists:


The Iranian capital is located near three major fault lines. It’s also built on relatively new sediment that doesn’t do a great job of supporting buildings when the ground shakes. On top of all that, the city has grown rapidly, and earthquake readiness was not a focus in building new homes. Hoping to reduce the risk of a catastrophe when the big one hits, Iranian officials created financial incentives in 2010 to encourage 5 million Iranians to leave the city. But the city remains large, and the risk of an earthquake is high. There’s a 90% chance of a magnitude 6.0 or greater earthquake in the coming decades, according to a Reuters report. And, because of the city’s location and poor construction standards, even a quake of that size would be devastating.


Turkey is no stranger to deadly earthquakes. More than 100,000 people died across the country during earthquakes in the 20th century, according to a World Bank report. And that risk hasn’t abated in recent years. Turkey has invested in retrofitting public buildings in Istanbul, the most populous city, but most of the city’s inhabitants live in hastily constructed homes that don’t meet buildings codes. A 2000 study found the city faces a greater than 60% chance of experiencing a magnitude 7.0 earthquake by 2030. A magnitude 7.6 earthquake in the Kocaeli province of Turkey, 75 miles away from Istanbul, killed nearly 1,000 people in Istanbul alone. A similar earthquake in the city center would kill many more.

Los Angeles:

Los Angeles, the second most populous city in the United States, has plenty of resources devoted to preventing a humanitarian disaster in the event of a large earthquake. But even cities that spend a lot of time and money preparing still may not be ready for the most devastating earthquakes. The Los Angeles area has a more than two-thirds chance of experiencing a magnitude 6.7 or larger earthquake by 2038, according to a United States Geological Society report. The 1994 Northridge earthquake, a magnitude 6.7 tremor, killed 57 people and caused $20 billion in damage.

More concerning is the 7% chance of a magnitude 8.0 earthquake in the next 30 years. A magnitude 7.8 tremor could leave 1,800 dead and 50,000 injured and cause $200 billion in damage, according to the USGS.

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