What an earthquake means for Lake Tahoe, surrounding communities

Updated: May. 28, 2021 at 4:20 PM PDT
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INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. (KOLO) - A magnitude 4.2 earthquake shook the middle of Lake Tahoe, and surrounding areas, Friday morning.

That’s a big deal. Friday’s event could lead to bigger issues down the road.

“The odds (of a major disaster) are still low but they’ve gotten much higher over the last two months because of these sequences,” said UNR’s Director of the Nevada Seismological Lab, Graham Kent, said.

Kent adds smaller earthquakes, like a magnitude 4.2, can lead to much bigger earthquakes down the road.

“The last one was about 4,500 years ago. There hasn’t been one since,” said Kent. “Those faults rerupture cyclically every 3,500 to 4,000 years so do the math. If either one of those fault zones go in a major event you’re going to generate a tsunami.”

Scientifically the area is overdue for a big ‘quake, but it isn’t all that likely right now. If Lake Tahoe experiences an earthquake in the magnitude six to seven range buildings could collapse.

In terms of what the lake’s water would do in an extreme event, Kent gives a basketball analogy.

“You’re playing basketball with LeBron James and he throws you up on the back of the backboard and you’re standing there and then you jump down. That’s about as far as the bottom of Lake Tahoe will drop from the top of the backboard.”

A 13 foot drop to be exact, leading to waves 30 feet high, according to Kent. If there’s a shake, check to see if the water level changes a few feet. Have an emergency family plan in place, too, which includes three to five days worth of food.

In the instance of an earthquake remember to drop, cover, and hold a stable surface near you.

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