I walked up St Andrew’s Hill in Christchurch. There was a small quake, and a woman tending her garden and I held on to her fence for a bit, waiting for it to pass.
“Are you leaving Christchurch this weekend?” she asked.
“No, is there a reason why I should?”.
“Lots of people are getting away to miss the big quake” she said.
“What big quake?”
“The one Ken Ring predicted. It’s all to do with the tides, you see”.
“Ken Ring. Oh yes – the Moon man. He is the one that a year’s predicts each day’s weather over the course of a year based on the tides. Because the Moon’s gravity pulls the tides he thinks that affects the weather”.
“I don’t know about that. But what he says is that a full moon pulls the earth’s crust, like it pulls the tides, and that will create a Mag. 4 earthquake about noon.” she said.
She goes on to say that Ken Ring has predicted that there will be a Christchurch (or maybe Marlborough) quake of Magnitude 4 by noon on 20 March 2011. Mr Ring is not very clear about where the predicted earthquake will occur.
“I’m not planning to go anywhere.” I said “Are you?”
“Oh yes. We’re heading to Timaru. I’m tired of quakes” she said.
People are not thinking rationally. They want certainty in their life. Scientists are giving probabilities and Mr Ring is giving certainties.
The moon’s gravity pulls the oceans to make the tides. Mr Ring says that when the moon is closer to the earth it exerts a stronger pull so it can move the earth’s crust. That’s pretty good going as the crust is pretty thick, and gravity is very weak. Gravity is weaker than me as I can lift my leg off the ground and it doesn’t take much effort at all. To think that something weaker than me lifting my leg can shift an entire tectonic plate underlying New Zealand is quite extra-ordinary.
When the moon is closer than usual it looks bigger and is called a super moon. Since there may be 1-6 super moons per year, it’s amazing that the stronger gravity hasn’t caused earthquakes at the same time as a super moon before now. Apparently it has taken careful study by Mr Ring who has just figured it out right now.
I listen to the radio. Mr Ring is saying that he had predicted the February earthquakes too. People are calling in pretty upset, telling him to think of the lives that would have been saved if he had actually made the prediction prior to the earthquakes. Others are amazed at how powerful his predictions are, and are buying his books.
Scientists on the radio say that the chance of a mag 4 earthquake on the date Mr Ring predicted is quite high, as we have just had larger earthquakes. That chance is high for the day before and the day after, and the week after and the month after that too. To be as precise as Mr Ring says and be correct is like flipping a coin. Chances are 50:50 he will have a lucky guess.
Somewhere between 500 and 50,000 people depending on the news articles you read believe Ken Ring and flee Christchurch. Many head for Twizel where, ironically, there are three earthquakes over magnitude 4 that Mr Ring did not predict happen around 1:30pm.
The predicted noon Christchurch quake does not happen. Instead a 5.1 hits around 9:47pm at night.
After the predicted event, John Campbell, a journalist, interviews Mr Moon on radio. Mr Moon alters his story to suit the facts. Mr Campbell treats him seriously, and becomes a tiny bit frustrated by the half truths. Unfortunately, this comes across as not suffering fools lightly, for which Mr Campbell later apologises. Consequently, some people have empathy for Mr Ring, and this clouds their judgement of the severity of the situation he incited.
People who left Christchurch o avoid earthquakes are very upset with Mr Ring. He receives a number of death threats, and goes into hiding for two years. By 2014 he was back predicting moon weather and moon quakes again, and people were buying his books again.