The time was 10:29 a.m. Friday, 14 minutes after the aftershock felt, if not around the world, at least in Central Illinois. Two thousand miles from Springfield, geologist Jim Berkland, a man who predicts earthquakes, knew all about it.

The time was 10:29 a.m. Friday, 14 minutes after the aftershock felt, if not around the world, at least in Central Illinois. Two thousand miles from Springfield, geologist Jim Berkland, a man who predicts earthquakes, knew all about it.

Indeed, Berkland, who lives in California, says he knew about Friday’s twin tremors weeks ago, when he published his monthly earthquake-prediction newsletter (an annual subscription costs $40). Although he didn’t put this one on his Web site—he says he was on vacation—Berkland emailed a copy of the newsletter that shows he predicted that an earthquake of at least 4.0 on the Richter scale would hit somewhere east of the Mississippi River during the first half of April.

He missed by a few days. Close enough.

“Holy cow,” says Julie Hearring, owner of Blank’s Insurance Agency in southern Illinois, about 25 miles from the first quake’s epicenter. “Maybe we ought to talk to that guy more often. That is really amazing.”

Others aren’t so impressed.

“His basic theory is just not right,” says Roger Hunter, a retired seismologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Colorado. “I don’t think he can predict earthquakes, and he does.”

With everything east of the Mississippi as a bullseye and a two-week time window, Berkland had a good shot, even if random guess was his method, said Hunter.

Hunter pooh-poohs Berkland’s claim that he can predict quakes based on the earth’s alignment with the sun and moon, solar and lunar eclipses, plus a few other things: If snakes crawl out of the ground in mid-winter, beware.

In this case, Berkland said lots of rain in the Midwest helped move the earth. Water in the ground, he said, lubricated fault lines that already were being pulled apart by the gravitational pull of the sun and moon. A full moon, when sun and moon are on opposite sides of the earth, is due on Sunday. It’s a condition Berkland calls syzygy (pronounced sis-uh-gee), and the pull on the planet is such that fault lines break like so much fatigued metal put under stress.

“I was expecting something,” Berkland said.

Berkland worked for the U.S. Geological Survey and was a geologist for Santa Clara County in California before he retired in 1994. His most famous prediction came in 1989, when he warned a California newspaper that a big one was coming. Four days later, a 7.1 quake hit the Bay Area, interrupting the World Series and killing 67 people.

Santa Clara County suspended him for two months, saying that he was panicking people, even though his prediction had been accurate. A school district in Washington state sent 16,000 students home with a flier the following year warning that Berkland had predicted a catastrophic quake—a prediction that didn’t come true and that Berkland denied making.

Besides gravity and water, Berkland relies on lost-and-found ads published in newspapers to predict quakes. When a lot of dogs and cats go missing, something’s up, he says.

Neither Springfield’s Animal Protection League nor Sangamon County Animal Control reported any unusual spikes in the number of missing pets since mid March.

Bruce Rushton can be reached at (217) 788-1542.