Saturday, December 03, 2005

Earthquakes, actual and predicted

Just over 15 years ago, a pseudoscientist named Iben Browning predicted that on December 3rd, 1990, a massive earthquake would hit the New Madrid fault in southeastern Missouri. The prediction caused mass hysteria. People bought earthquake insurance, news stations did stories about standing in doorways, and many of my classmates stayed home from school, "just in case."

The prediction, while silly and baseless, did bring something surprising to the attention of midwesterners: the largest earthquakes ever to hit the contiguous United States occurred along the New Madrid fault.

In 1811 and 1812, three earthquakes believed to be over 8.0 on the Richter scale occurred with epicenters in or near southeastern Missouri. They are said to have caused the Mississippi River to run backwards and were felt as far away as Massachusetts. Seismologists predict that another large earthquake will hit the area in the next few decades.

Want to read more? This is a site with a brief description of the New Madrid fault and links to eyewitness accounts of the 1811-1812 quakes. This is an article by a guy reflecting on the 1990 prediction hysteria. Want to read a lot more about Browning's prediction? The USGS will mail you a free 248-page report (!) about the incident.


Fishfrog said...

Is it better to be on the third story of a three-story apartment building or the first story? I think the third story is better, because although you might fall farther to hit the ground, at least only the roof will fall on top of you. Better to die from a fall than being squashed? I think so.

scarlet panda said...

Whichever is better, I'm sure either is preferable to being on the 7th floor of a 16-story building. I am doomed.