Twenty-three hundred years ago, hordes of mice, snakes, and insects fled the Greek city of Helike on the Gulf of Corinth (map). "After these creatures departed, an earthquake occurred in the night," wrote the ancient Roman writer Claudius Aelianus. "The city subsided; an immense wave flooded and Helike disappeared."
Since then, generations of scientists and folklorists have used a dizzying array of methods to attempt to predict earthquakes. Animal behavior, changes in the weather, and seismograms have all fallen short. (Watch: home video footageand the science of earthquakes.)
The dream is to be able to forecast earthquakes like we now predict the weather. Even a few minutes' warning would be enough for people to move away from walls or ceilings that might collapse or for nuclear plants and other critical facilities to be shut down safely in advance of the temblor. And if accurate predictions could be made a few days in advance, any necessary evacuations could be planned, much as is done today for hurricanes.
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