Remember Y2K, that hyped computer bug and harbinger of digital apocalypse that never happened when the year 2000 arrived?
Well, 17 years later, it appears something like a Y2K bug played a role in a mistaken alert for a 6.8 earthquake sent out Wednesday about an earthquake off the Santa Barbara coast — back in 1925.
The error happened when someone at Caltech tried to correct the exact location of the Prohibition-era Santa Barbara earthquake, which happened 92 years ago.
The erroneous report went out by email around 4:51 p.m. A closer look at the alert, however, would have shown that something was amiss. The time of the alert was dated June 29, 2025, at 7:42 a.m. But it corresponds with a real earthquake that occurred a century earlier.
The false alert also did not show up on the U.S. Geological Survey’s website that maps new earthquakes.
“That’s a mistake. It’s not real,” said Caltech seismologist Egill Hauksson.
He said that a seismologist at UC Santa Barbara had recently complained to the USGS’ National Earthquake Information Center that the precise location of Santa Barbara’s 1925 earthquake was not correct, and about 6 miles off from where records actually indicated.
Hauksson’s team was asked by the National Earthquake Information Center to update the location of the historic event in the Advanced National Seismic System database. Someone on Hauksson’s team did so. If everything had gone right, almost no one should have noticed the change.
The USGS Web pages were updated correctly. But the USGS’ email notification system changed the year from 1925 to 2025, which caused an email to be sent from the email server that typically sends alerts of new earthquakes.
“Apparently, there is a software bug around somewhere,” according to a summary of the incident provided by Hauksson.
In a statement posted on Twitter, the USGS said the revision of the 1925 earthquake was “misinterpreted by software as a current event. We are working to resolve the issue.”
As to whether an earthquake off the Santa Barbara coast, of that magnitude, would have been felt in downtown L.A., Hauksson said:
“Yes, it would have been very lightly felt. Particularly, people in high-rises would have felt swaying back and forth for a while.”
10:10 a.m., June 22: This article was updated with more information about the origin of the error, involving USGS email notification.
7:35 p.m.: This article was updated with information on what showed up on the USGS website.
5:55 p.m.: This article was updated with a statement from the USGS.
4:55 p.m.: This article was updated with information that the report was erroneous.
This article was originally published at 4:52 p.m. June 21.