Earthquakes: They're Actually Happening in MOST U.S. States; When is the Next Big One?
Earthquakes are one type of natural disaster that, unlike
tornadoes, hurricanes, and flash floods, cannot be predicted.
There is no pattern to let us know when and where an earthquake
may occur, and they can happen any time of day, during any
type of weather and in places where it's not expected.
Although they usually last less than a minute, the damage
earthquakes cause can be tremendous.
Earthquakes may last only seconds, but the damage they
create can be immense.
What exactly causes an earthquake? In the 4th century B.C.
the now-famous philosopher Aristotle said winds trapped in
underground caves caused the tremors, but today we know that
earthquakes are the result of geologic processes deep within
the earth. When two sides of a fault push together and suddenly
slip, the energy waves released travel through the earth's
crust and cause the ground to shake.
Earthquakes are measured using the Richter magnitude scale.
According to this scale, quakes with magnitudes of 2.0 or
less are not typically felt by people, those with magnitudes
of 4.5 or more are large enough to be felt and recorded, and
those with magnitudes of 8.0 or higher are extremely strong,
The World's Biggest Earthquakes
The largest earthquake in the world
occurred in Chile in 1960. It was a magnitude of 9.5,
and more than 2,000 people were killed, 3,000 injured and
2 million rendered homeless as a result. Other major earthquakes
since 1900 include:
Good news! The USGS says California won't break off
into the ocean, even if the "Big One" hits.
- Prince William Sound, Alaska (1964)
- Magnitude 9.2
- The quake killed 15 people but an ensuing tsunami
killed 110 more. There was about $311 million in property
- Andreanof Islands, Alaska (1957)
- Magnitude 9.1
- The quake left a 4.5-meter crack in a road, caused
Mount Vsevidof to erupt after being dormant for 200
years and generated two tsunamis. One of these traveled
(and caused extensive damage) to Hawaii and then to
Chile, Japan and other areas in the Pacific region.
- Off the West Coast of Northern Sumatra (2004)
- Magnitude 9.0
- This earthquake and resulting tsunami
tragedy that shocked the world last December killed
more than 283,100 people. Over 14,000 people are still
listed as missing, and over 1 million people were displaced
in 10 countries in South Asia and East Africa.
- The Kamchatka Peninsula (in the Russian Far East) (1952)
- Magnitude 9.0
- A tsunami generated by this earthquake struck the
Hawaiian Islands, resulting in nearly 1 million in property
Are Earthquakes Happening Close to Home?
Number of Earthquakes (1974-2003)
| New Mexico
| New York
| South Carolina
| New Hampshire
| North Carolina
| New Jersey
| Rhode Island
| West Virginia
In the United States, earthquakes occur across the nation--not
just on the West Coast or in Alaska or Hawaii, as you may
think. In fact, take a look at the table to the right to get
an idea of where earthquakes have hit the States from 1974
to 2003, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).
Where, and When, Will the "Big One" Hit?
While it isn't possible to predict where and when an earthquake
will hit, scientists can, using probabilities based on scientific
data, calculate potential future earthquakes. For instance,
according to the USGS, there is a 67 percent chance a major
earthquake will occur in the San Francisco Bay area (and a
60 percent chance one will occur in Southern California) in
the next three decades.
Find out When and Where Earthquakes Happen: Live!
The U.S. Geological Survey provides live information
on earthquakes as they occur. You won't believe how
many earthquakes have happened in the last week, last
day--even the last hour!
You can find out the exact location, date, time and
magnitude of any earthquake in the United States or
world, as soon as it happens.
To find out if earthquakes are occurring in your hometown,
visit the Recent
Earthquake Activity Map Now!
Right now, scientists estimate where future earthquakes may
occur by studying the history of previous large earthquakes
along with the rate at which strain accumulates in rock. However,
these methods may not be completely reliable, nor are they
capable of predicting more short-term (even one- or two-year)
That said, scientists do "forecast" future earthquakes
using the best methods currently available, and there's an
area of the United States that's as high a hazard for earthquakes
as California, yet is rarely though of as such: It's the New
Madrid region located right in the Central United States--it
stretches from just west of Memphis, Tennessee into southern
According to the USGS and the Center for Earthquake Research
and Information of the University of Memphis, it's estimated
that in the next 50 years:
- There's a 7 percent to 10 percent chance of a magnitude
7.5-8.0 earthquake occurring in this region.
- There's a 25 percent to 40 percent chance of a magnitude
6.0 or larger earthquake occurring.
What to do During an Earthquake
If an earthquake hits, follow these tips from the USGS
to stay safe:
Stay indoors if possible.
Get under a desk or table and hold onto it.
Stay away from windows, fireplaces and large
furniture or appliances that could fall over.
Don't run downstairs or outside while a building
If you're outside, move into the open (away
from buildings, power lines or other objects that
could fall on you).
If you're driving, move out of traffic and stop
your car if possible (don't stop on a bridge or
under an overpass).
Stay in your car, and when you resume driving
watch out for breaks in pavement, fallen rocks,
If you're in a mountainous area, be especially
cautious of falling rocks, landslides, trees, etc.
that may have been loosened by the quake.
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