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How Common is the 5.8M Virginia Quake?

posted on Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011 at 3:05 pm

A 5.8 magnitude earthquake rattled metro Washington D.C., Philadelphia, New York and other East Coast cities at 1:51 EDT this Tuesday afternoon. The quake’s epicenter was located 84 miles southwest of Washington D.C.. The closest town to the epicenter was Mineral, Virginia which is 5 miles south-southwest of the epicenter. The earthquake occurred 3.7 miles beneath the earth’s surface. The last earthquake of this magnitude to occur in Virginia took place in 1897 in Blacksburg Virginia, near the Appalachian Mountain Range. The 1897 quake was felt from Georgia to Pennsylvania and from Indiana to the Atlantic Coast.

Virginia Earthquake, Image: US Geological Survey

Virginia Earthquake, Image: US Geological Survey

This map from the United States Geological Survey shows the areas that experienced shaking near the epicenter. The shaking ranged from weak to very strong with moderate damage occurring.  As you can see from this map, people in and around the D.C. metro area felt light to moderate shaking as a result of the quake. The US GS received close to 9000 reports from 17 cities.

Virginia Earthquake, Image: US Geological Survey

Virginia Earthquake, Image: US Geological Survey

Earthquakes in Virginia are rare. However, there are fault lines in the bedrock that formed hundreds of millions of years ago from continental collisions. These collisions formed the Appalachian Mountain Range, west of the earthquake epicenter.

According to the United States Geological Survey, “Earthquakes in the central and eastern U.S., although less frequent than in the western U.S., are typically felt over a much broader region. East of the Rockies, an earthquake can be felt over an area as much as ten times larger than a similar magnitude earthquake on the west coast.”

The US GS website also states that the largest damaging earthquake (4.8M) in the Central Virginia Seismic Zone occurred in 1875. Click here for more information on Virginia’s earthquake history.

Dawn Brown, FOX 8 New Orleans

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