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Speaking of earthquakes…

Meet my favorite doomsday scenario, the New Madrid fault. It runs along the border between Missouri and Tennessee. The chart compares the relative impact of the Northridge earthquake of 1994 to a quake along the New Madrid fault in 1895.

But 1895 wasn’t a biggie for New Madrid. Oh, dear me, no. We’re coming up to the 200th anniversary of the biggest seismological event in recorded history.

Between December of 1811 and March of 1812, thousands of quakes shook along the NM fault, including four spectacularly large ones. Church bells rang in Boston. The Mississippi River ran backwards for hours. An Indian village was swallowed whole. Reelfoot Lake, essentially a huge pothole, just appeared. Tens of thousands of acres of forest were flattened.

I’ve never heard an estimated death toll for these quakes. Many people just disappeared (along with their houses, in some cases — some cracks in the earth were five miles long). But that part of the country was very, very sparsely populated in 1811.

If it happened today? You could kiss Memphis goodbye, for a start.


Comment from Sven in Colorado
Time: August 24, 2011, 9:08 pm

I’m waiting for the big hiccup along the fault that caused Yellowstone Falls. Now THAT on could be very, very interesting for those of us that live downwind, more or less, of that possible eruption.

Comment from dawn
Time: August 24, 2011, 9:20 pm

I remember the Northridge quake very well. I was stationed in San Diego and was serving quartermaster duty with a nuclear submarine in dry dock. I was standing in a little guard shack and I got in the door frame out of habit. It was ridiculously scary. My switchboard went crazy with phone calls from top brass asking if the sub rolled off its blocks. It swayed pretty good but stayed upright. It was probably only because I am such a capable night watch person.

The Hollywood freeway collapsed that morning. One day I’ll get to tell my grandchildren about the quake of ’94.

Comment from Alice
Time: August 24, 2011, 9:22 pm

Hey – that’s MY favorite doomsday event, too. I live right at the “edge of damage” – ~90 miles from New Madrid. After Katrina but before all the info was made sooper-secret confidential/need to know, I got hold of Missouri’s Disaster Recovery planning documents. I have to say, the plans are the best I’ve seen, and I’ve read a bunch of them. For one thing, they acknowledge throughout “First Responder is YOU”. I sure hope they’ve kept it current.

Comment from surly ermine
Time: August 24, 2011, 9:47 pm

Umm, yeah. I vaguely felt the quake the other day and decided against researching further to preserve my tenuous hold on fleeting serenity. Curse your graphics skilz! 😉

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: August 24, 2011, 10:27 pm

My thieving skills, you mean. I pinched that graphic.

Though, come to think of it, I did do a lot of earthquake graphics after Northridge for my erstwhile employer. And Loma Prieta in 1989. Mostly about the geology.

One of the curious features of New Madrid is that the plates don’t move very much each year. So maybe not building up pressure. On the other hand, it’s still throwing up sand boils — these big mounds of sand extruded under pressure.

Comment from Nina from GCP
Time: August 24, 2011, 10:28 pm

Yep, and it will happen again. I’m hoping I’m long gone before any of this bad stuff happens!

Comment from mongo
Time: August 24, 2011, 10:47 pm

yeah, New Madrid. I’m so there. No, really. Right there in that really dark part. And not on the edge. Giggly Giggly. But, whatcha gonna do. Sit around and be all nervous? meh.

Comment from djmoore
Time: August 24, 2011, 10:49 pm

When I was in high school, we lived across a valley and up the hill across from Devil’s Icebox in Rockbridge State Park Missouri. This crack in the earth, a significant spelunking destination, is part of the New Madrid fault complex.

In all the years I lived in mid Missouri, we only had one, very mild earthquake, the only one I’ve experienced. Rattled the china chest, but no more.

Comment from Oceania
Time: August 24, 2011, 10:56 pm

Five Pointers?

Nahhhh that’s small scale stuff boys and girls …

Comment from Christopher Taylor
Time: August 24, 2011, 11:01 pm

Yeah the New Madrid quake was probably one of the most horrendous quakes in the history of the world, and it could happen again. Scientists speculate that the reason this fairly modest quake was felt so far away is that the east coast lacks smaller faultlines like, say California, which act to bleed off and reduce some of the energy of the quake by shifting infantessimal amounts. A big quake in the east could destroy a lot of cities.

Comment from Nina from GCP
Time: August 24, 2011, 11:07 pm

It is small stuff for New Zealand, or San Francisco, or Los Angeles. It’s big for Virginia.

Comment from Mark Matis
Time: August 25, 2011, 1:12 am

Well, if the New Madrid fault DOES go again, I guess we can be sure that will be the end of Elvis…

Comment from John C
Time: August 25, 2011, 2:02 am

Peter Hernon wrote a novel called “8.4” about this area having some massive earthquakes. It is not a bad read at all.

Comment from Oceania
Time: August 25, 2011, 2:58 am

Do you remember Shrek?
The Bendigo Station Mountain Merino covered by the BBC world Wide?


Comment from JeffS
Time: August 25, 2011, 5:00 am

For one thing, they acknowledge throughout “First Responder is YOU”. I sure hope they’ve kept it current.

That’s still, more or less, the mantra of FEMA, Alice. Subject to change by whichever politician shrieks the loudest. I wish they’d put it that bluntly, because a lot of people still expect the goobermint to come rushing in with pallets of food and buckets of money. Including some so-called professionals. I see this sort of knuckle headed “thinking” in my job all the time. Unfortunately.

Comment from JeffS
Time: August 25, 2011, 5:07 am

Stoatie, did you read this Wired article?

My view of preparedness in Federal agencies tells me that the article might be understating the problem. Getting Federal agencies to cooperate at the level implied by the article would be a major issue, especially considering the durations involved.

Comment from MIke C.
Time: August 25, 2011, 7:11 am

“Pops” in old suture and other faults are rare, but they do occur. It can take hundreds of millions of years to release all of the strain. Folks in the east (like my wife, daughters and grandson) got a chance to see/feel some geology in action – gotta love it! Being at work in Humidity Central, I missed it, but I’ve been through quakes before, mostly in Mexico.

And while you can get large, and sometimes even VERY large quakes in normally inactive areas, if you want to fret over something, fret over the next large impactor strike on the planet. Hasn’t been one of those in a while, but there will be. And I doubt Bruce Willis & Co. are going to be able to do much about it. As a geoscientist, my considered professional advice is to have another beer and stop worrying.

Comment from Oceania
Time: August 25, 2011, 7:29 am

Yes, that Fault zone appears to be rather interesting. Bug shakes pop up curiously randomly all over the place. Need to let civilians use that pesky GPS P code for carrier tracking … and monitor crust deformities over North America.

We have 8 pointers roughly every 20 years(?) somewhere along the fault. Japan is the boundary of 3 plates …. which is even more horrific.

Comment from Ric Locke
Time: August 25, 2011, 11:22 am

Giving civilians access to P-code would be a nice Grand Gesture, Oceania, but would be useless both from a propaganda and a practical standpoint. The median moonbat is so pig-ignorant that it wouldn’t even count as a significant episode of Sticking It To The Militarists, and civilians who want to know positions at the levels of precision needed for geological monitoring abandoned anything using codes at all back when there were only three GPS satellites.

Not counting travel expenses and trespassing issues, if you and two friends are prepared to spend about $1000 each and a weekend setting up, you can monitor surface movements to a centimeter or less anywhere below about 75° latitude, no interaction with DOD desirable, let alone necessary.


Comment from Mark Matis
Time: August 25, 2011, 12:00 pm

Hey, JeffS – FedGov agencies can cooperate QUITE WELL when it suits their purpose. Just look at Operation Fast and Furious, along with however many others with similar memes were run by BATFE, FBI, DHS, ICE, DEA, DOJ, and State. That worked EXACTLY as they wanted it to until some honorable “Law Enforcement” types in BATFE decided that murdering Federal Agents was beyond what they would participate in.

Comment from some vegetable
Time: August 25, 2011, 12:33 pm

I was quite fascinated by the knee-jerk reaction “big government can do anything” that appeared with hurricane Katrenia.
The news did casually point out that it was the first time that the Feds were asked (read demanded)to act. Thus they were unprepared…since they hadn’t expected to be called upon to that level.
You may now expect a “Bureau of Earthquake Preparedness” with 10,000 employees to be foisted upon us. Its politically appointed Czar will (like NASA) focus on the cultural differences in how people respond to delays in government aid and focus on those given (by nature of their historic legacies) to voting for the party in power .

Wow…I’m sour this morning…must be that on day 58? of 100+ heat the thunderstorm just missed our house and we got none of the beautiful, beautifu, rain 🙁

Comment from Becca
Time: August 25, 2011, 1:56 pm

Yep, smack dab in the red for this KY girl.

I recall in ’90 or ’91 getting out of school for a day because some scientist predicted a NM quake.

I wasn’t worried. At the time, an earthquake seemed preferable to Trig class.

Comment from Gromulin
Time: August 25, 2011, 5:50 pm

Meh. Growing up directly over the Hayward fault, I’ll take earthquakes over tornados and hurricanes anyday. Just hope to be near an exit door, and you are good to go.

I once watched an entire football field turn into what looked like a bowl of green jello at my high school during a middlin trembler in 1981. I was doing the ‘hurdlers stretch’ with my face about a foot off the field when it hit. I’ll never, ever, forget that.

Comment from TehSchlip
Time: August 25, 2011, 7:59 pm

Obligatory… http://i1199.photobucket.com/albums/aa466/ShamblingStrider/Virginiaquakesnark/F11Virginia-1.jpg

Hehehe. Hopefully that doesn’t send me to the filter.

Comment from Mark Matis
Time: August 25, 2011, 9:04 pm

Hey, TehSchlip:
Is cheering OK, instead of laughing?

Comment from JeffS
Time: August 25, 2011, 11:49 pm

FedGov agencies can cooperate QUITE WELL when it suits their purpose.

Heh! Yeah, true enough, Mark. Unfortunately.

Equally unfortunately, disaster events don’t suit all Federal agencies. Especially once the glamor factor approaches zero, usually in about 30 days.

Comment from Subotai Bahadur
Time: August 26, 2011, 2:01 am

The earth is getting interesting. The night before the Virginia quake, we had a 5.5 here in Colorado down by Trinidad. We felt it shake the house here about 80 miles away as the crow flies over the mountains. Other than some government caused quakes in the 1960’s [Rocky Mountain Arsenal accidentally lubricating rock layers with high pressure water] they are not normal here.

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