Of all the natural disasters we experience regularly here on Earth, the most violent and destructive are earthquakes. Thousands are killed each year, especially in poorer countries where buildings are not designed to withstand the violent shaking and rolling of the ground.

I’ll continue my discussion of currently unexplainable or poorly explained phenomena that have been consistently, reliably reported (and now even recorded) prior to strong earthquakes.

Earthquake Weather

Something’s coming, sky is purple
Dogs are howling to themselves
Days are changing with the weather
Like a rip tide could rip us away

-“Earthquake Weather” [song], Beck, Guero (2005)

There are numerous instances of bizarre-shaped clouds (earthquake clouds or EQCs) appearing in the sky days before an earthquake. Prior to the 1995 quake in Kobe, Japan, several were captured in photographs. Proverbs tell of dragon or snake-like clouds foretelling the coming of the earthquake. A large cloud also appeared suddenly in a blue sky moments before a quake in Tokyo, Japan in 1923.

If you live in an area prone to earthquakes, you might know the stories about earthquake weather. Earthquake weather is said to be a dry, hot, oppressive calmness. It leaves one with the miserable feeling that something bad is about to occur. People feel weak, nauseous and uneasy. There are also reports of the atmosphere being thick with smoke, dust, fog or vapors. Thunderstorms were associated with earthquakes. The moon or sun were red, were surrounded by a halo or elongated in shape. The stars appeared closer. Short-arc vertical or horizontal rainbows have been seen. Early observers, like Aristotle, noted these unusual weather characteristics.

EQCs are stationary and do not drift away like normal clouds. Diffuse, low clouds settle into a fog. Earthquake fogs (EQFs) are commonly associated with a coming quake and were described in historic documents. Fogs and clouds were so connected with the strong tremors that it was once thought that they were the cause of the quakes that followed soon after. Aristotle called it “pneuma” meaning breath of the earth. There are historic and current reports of this “breath” having a sulfur odor or a smell of decay. Mainstream science does not correlate these atmospheric changes with seismic activity and does not consider these as precursors that can predict a coming quake.

Glows, balls and curtains of lights

Gaining more credibility as an earthquake precursor are luminous phenomena that occur before or during a strong quake. The high quality evidence for these events comes from historical writings especially from Japan where earthquakes are very common.

Earthquake lights (EQLs) come in a great variety of shapes and colors and can appear out of the ground or from the sky. They can be seen moments before a quake as a glowing dome or as flashes, curtains, sheets, funnels, arcs or balls that may even travel along the fault line in blue, red, green, yellow, orange, purple or white. Link to USGS page.

The dozens of good EQL photographs helped bring EQLs out of folklore and into the realm of scientific investigation. However, there is still no good explanation available mainly because a way to objectively measure these lights does not exist.

There is an even stranger account of balls of lights that comes from fishermen in Turkey before a 1999 quake. They described fire balls (ball lightning?) in the sky and undersea explosions with bright balloons of light ascending through the water. Their fishing nets were burned. What does one make of this?

Modern science rejects reports such as this. As in the other prequake anomalous occurrences, without data – collected in an objective way – the idea of EQLs cannot be seriously evaluated.

What in the world is happening?

Unusual animal behavior, anomalous atmospherics, light displays, sounds, spooky happenings around the house. Is the earth sending signals to which we fail to listen? It all sounds bizarre. How can all these things seemingly occur before earthquakes and we can’t explain it?

The first question that must be asked is: “Are these things really happening as people have described?” Can this be a case of mistake observations, observations after the fact (where we attribute every little thing as associated with the quake), or hoaxes?

As noted above, precursors of earthquakes have been reported in ancient times. They described phenomenon that is generally the same as that experienced today. Now, there are instances where many, many reliable observers have documented these events, even by camera, videotape and sensors.

The reports have entered the field of mainstream science. Though few scientists are willing to study them, there has been some advancement towards understanding. For example, Ikeya has determined that there is sufficient correlation between time and location of phenomena that shows the events are definitively related to the subsequent quake.

But how does one study these events? We can’t predict earthquakes so how can we be prepared to study precursors? More importantly, how do governmental and university scientists obtain funding to study phenomena that many discount? Those scientists that do go against the grain have suffered some professional discredit, even when their experiments produced results. But, there results have promise.

Several theories have been mentioned with respect to the above ground phenomena that occur in conjunction with below ground activity. Newer theories are being formed that suggest the earth often tells us well in advance that she is about to heave.

A theory must account for an invisible source that causes these observations. There are scads of invisible sources that may account for these observations. Gases, charged particles (ions), electrical fields, magnetic fields, infra- or ultrasound, infrared or ultraviolet light – sources that people can rarely detect without assistance of equipment. An invisible source may be detectable to animals or everyday electronic devices or may interact with the environment in such a way as to become noticeable to people.

What happens prior to the quake? Rock is being strained, compressed, heated and bent, down to the very crystals, before it finally breaks en masse. Before the rock mass breaks and unzips, it cracks. Tiny cracks form in the rock structure. The stress and strain placed on rock in an active fault zone changes the properties of the rock. If it changed, can we measure it? If we can measure it, can we use it to predict when the quake will occur?

Coming up (when I manage to pull it together in a cohesive explanation that I can understand), cutting edge science and research on earth signals before a quake. They really are out there.


Bolt, Bruce A., 1993, Earthquakes, W. H. Freeman and Company: New York.

Corliss, William R., 1983, Earthquakes, Tides, Unidentified Sounds and Related Phenomena, The Sourcebook Project: Glen Arm, MD

Corliss, William R., 1995, Handbook of Unusual Natural Phenomena: Eyewitness Accounts of Nature’s Greatest Mysteries, Gramercy Books/Random House.

Gokhberg, Morgounov, and Pokhotelov, 1995, Earthquake Prediction – Seismo-electromagnetic Phenomena, Gordon & Breach Publishers.


Ikeya, Motiji, 2004, Earthquakes and Animals: From Folk Legends to Science, World Scientific Publishing Co., Pte. Ltd.: Singapore.

Pulinets, Sergey and Kirill Boyarchuk, 2004, Ionospheric Precursors of Earthquakes, Springer-Verlag: Berlin Heidelberg.

Tributsch, Helmut, 1982, When the Snakes Awake: Animals and Earthquake Prediction, MIT Press: Cambridge MA.

Continued at…

2 thoughts on “Whispers…Part 2

  1. I’m unconvinced by the attention to actual causality attributed to the phenomena.

    For instance – a cloud materializing above Tokyo moments before a devastating earthquake. Earthquakes in Japan can be anything from shallow to deep, but generally (in the large sizes) are 10-20 km below surface. At the speed of S-wave propagation, the mechanical motion of the earth at the surface doesn’t begin for at least 10 seconds. Yet, if the rupture were to induce a strong piezo-electric pulse (actually more “triboelectric” than piezo), that would propagate out at the speed of light. A common super-saturated atmosphere might readily precipitate as a cloud upon having the mesosphere band of ions accellerated toward the troposphere. After all, the particles expelled by high-flying jets can induce nucleation of persistent clouds in the supersaturated near-stratosphere.

    Likewise, reports of fiery balls, and other phenomena tend to get aggrandized with each story’s repetition. There certainly are enough cameras and video recorders in the world to catch at least SOME of the weird phenomena attributed to precursor events. Yet, the record remains vexingly sparse.

    I am willing to believe that there definitely ARE precursor phenomena before SOME earthquakes in SPECIAL geologic regions. Triboelectric and piezoelectric effects may preceed a large temblor – if the rocks are cooperating and capable. Similarly, there may be strong electric fields that change the ion balance of the atmosphere (which animals appear strongly sensitive to). Indeed, it is plausible that even the daily North-normal magnetic field oscillation (resulting from the rotating collapse of the ionosphere) could be significantly altered by changes to the local magnetic vector or electric field anomaly. After all, we now know that pigeons (for example) and hundreds of other species of migratory animals are esquisitely sensitive to the earth anomolous magnetic vector. They undoubtedly every day become acclimated to the oscillatory decay of the ionosphere – and if it were to increase, or vanish or the pattern materially change – they might react in outwardly observable ways.

    So yes, I think it possible, wise Author. I just wouldn’t put a whole lot of credibility behind the notion that there’s a giant conspiracy to suppress observation of, analysis or even the pragmatics of these effects. And I remain – as an old geologist – convinced that only special faults, special conditions apply, even to the attributed phenomena.


  2. Thanks, Statistics. We should be unconvinced about all the reports, I agree. I have a concluding post yet to put together that talks more about the current theories scientists are working on. They include reference to ionospheric phenomena and EM pulses that you have mentioned. Also, it is very true that not all EQs are the same. But, some seismic areas have repeated activity at similar depths because of the forces at work. I am of the view that while they might not catch all precursor activity, some early warning systems will spot the signals from a large stress build up and prevent unnecessary deaths.

    By no means do I think there is any conspiracy. I just think that U.S. scientists have brushed off investigation into these phenomena. I think they are perhaps going down the wrong path if they really want short-term predictive power. However, I do believe the tide is changing, thanks to academia from other countries. Stay tuned for the final installment.

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