Nevada Seismological Laboratory Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Why does Nevada have earthquakes?
A: Nevada has both small and large earthquakes. Nearly all the mountain ranges in the state are growing, one earthquake at a time. (topographic map)

Q: Could a big earthquake like they have in California happen in Reno?
A: Yes, but not as often. Reno had a nearby magnitude 6.4 earthquake in 1914, and we believe we had a magnitude 6.7 earthquake very nearby in 1869. The potential exists for earthquakes of magnitude 7.0 or a little larger in the Reno area. (Earthquakes in Reno-Carson City map)

Q: How many earthquakes are there in Nevada?
A: There are thousands each year that are too small for anyone to feel. There might be tens to over one hundred earthquakes over a year in Nevada and eastern California that are large enough to be felt. On average an earthquake that is strong enough to be damaging, if it strikes a populated area, occurs about every three years in this region. (seismicity map; earthquake search)

Q: Where are the faults in Nevada?
A: We have found active earthquake faults in every part of Nevada. The area just east of the Sierras might have the most activity. There is an active fault at the base of nearly every mountain range in the state. So everyone in Nevada lives no more than several miles from an earthquake fault. (fault map of Nevada)

Q: Are there faults near Reno?
A: There are at least two faults running into the city limits that may be capable of a large, damaging earthquake of magnitude 7 or more, larger than the Northridge earthquake in January 1994. There are many more apparently smaller faults. (fault map of Reno-Carson)

Q: Are there active faults near Las Vegas?
A: Yes. Just as many as in any other part of Nevada. But they may not have earthquakes as often as in the other areas. (fault map of Las Vegas)

Q: Are there faults near Las Vegas that could produce a magnitude 7 earthquake? Are there more earthquakes in Nevada than in Arizona or New Mexico?
A: There are faults in the region around Las Vegas that have the potential to produce strong earthquakes on rare occasions. Rare means that the average time between the large earthquakes on any one of the faults is at least 1000-10,000 years. We do not know when the next one will happen, of course.

There are also active faults with long average times between earthquakes in some parts of Arizona, and some parts of New Mexico. On average, Arizona and New Mexico both have fewer earthquakes than Nevada, but a strong Nevada earthquake is more likely to be close to Reno than to Las Vegas, so a state-wide average doesn't tell you anything about the hazard faced by Las Vegas.

Q: Do all earthquakes occur on faults?
A: Yes, but it is very common for earthquakes in Nevada to occur on faults that deeply buried, and thus not visible on the ground surface.

Q: What should a small earthquake mean to us?
A: It's good to remind Nevadans that we have earthquake hazards, and of the simple things we can do to be prepared.

Q: Does a local earthquake make another or a larger earthquake more likely?
A: Yes, for the next five days. But the chance is not high. Right after the earthquake, there is only about 6% chance of another earthquake that size or larger, and about 3% for an earthquake that is noticeably larger. The chance is decreasing all the time, and five days after the earthquake, it will be back essentially to normal.

Q: What does an earthquake somewhere else in the world mean for northern and western Nevada?
A: It will not have any direct effects. Events that far away are not capable of affecting earthquakes in Nevada.

Q: Could a big earthquake in California cause earthquakes in Nevada?
A: In the past we didn't think so, but now we know that the 1992 Landers earthquake caused minor events all the way up into southern and western Nevada. Any other magnitude 7 earthquake might be big enough to repeat that. We do not expect any earthquake smaller than magnitude 7 to trigger tiny events in Nevada.

Q: Do we have as much earthquake risk here in Nevada as they do in California?
A: We could have earthquakes just as large or larger than the Northridge or Loma Prieta earthquakes, but less than half as often. We do not expect magnitude 8 earthquakes here (like the 1906 San Francisco quake).

Q: How many and what size of earthquakes do we have near Reno?
A: Just within 25 miles of Reno, history records 16 serious (M>=5.5), potentially-damaging earthquakes since 1869, or more than one every ten years. Sometimes there are quieter periods; but there was no predictive significance to the fact that the last one before the September 1994 earthquake south of Gardnerville, was over 28 years before, in 1966 near Truckee. (paper on Reno earthquake occurrence)

Q: What would happen during an earthquake in Reno/Carson?
A: The Nevada Earthquake Safety Council has developed a scenario, or a description of what could happen, if the nearby Genoa fault were to rupture.

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Last modified: 11/07/2006
 2006 Nevada Seismological Laboratory