Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Shake Rattle Rumble

It was almost 1400 yesterday when my desk started to shake. Then just as I thought it was finishing, it really started to shake and the windows were rattling. There was a low rumble. My supervisor said "what the-?" And I said "this is an earthquake." And he said "we should probably get away from the window?" And then it was done.

So we learned that the epicenter was in Mineral VA, spitting distance from the VA Renaissance Faire grounds and the North Anna Nuclear Power Station, about 80 miles from the office. It registered 5.8 on the Richter Scale. According to an expert at the US Geological Survey, it was the strongest VA quake since a 5.6 in 1897. This one was felt in parts of NC and as far north as VT.

At around 2000 last night, there was a 4.2 aftershock. It was nothing like the first quake.

This map of US fault lines and earthquake hazard zones came from the US Geological Survey.

Quakes are very uncommon in this area. I've experienced four over the past eight years and none that I can recall prior to that. VA has far more seismic activity than MD, and I've been working in VA for the past eight years, so that makes some sense. Nothing has really been big enough to rattle much through MD before that, I guess. Or I just didn't know what it was.

The very first quake I felt was a 4.5 in 2003. It wasn't that far from yesterday's epicenter, and it shook the office in McLean for a few seconds. The second was shortly after I bought my home. There was a very brief rattle in the wee hours of a Friday morning. I don't even know the magnitude or epicenter of that one, it was by far the mildest of the four I have felt. Hmm, a quick internet search tells me that one was a 3.6 and it was centered just north near Gaithersburg MD. It wasn't the mildest earthquake I've felt after all, but circumstances made the next one pretty bad. It was a magnitude 3 and it happened while Pat and I were riding a roller coaster at King's Dominion last October. We were a mere 3 miles from the epicenter of that quake. It was the worst roller coaster ride ever, and left us both with the mother of all migraines, though we didn't know until a few days later that it was a quake.

In every case but the third (because I was on a roller coaster), I knew it was an earthquake.

It was business as usual in the office following the quake, though no one was really focused on work. I heard a building was evacuated across the street from us, but we were not, though the entire call center left the building. We were jostled quite a bit, and I had a headache and my back and neck were sore. It was kind of like someone was shaking the building as if trying to get the last coins out of a piggy bank.

At home, I found two very worried kitties who clung to me through the night. One plastic bottle fell off a shelf in the bathroom and a shell fell off my altar in the bedroom. Otherwise, you really couldn't tell that anything had happened. The kitties jumped at every noise, or looked at me for a reaction, and I tried very hard not to jump with them (though I think I looked out the window when I heard a car go by far more often than normal). The aftershock was brief and the cats stayed close. They sat with me on the bed for story time and stayed with me through the night. Poor things looked quite forlorn when I left the house this morning.

A lot of people were joking about the whole thing in the hours that followed, because it was mild in comparison to other earthquakes but disrupted the region quite a bit anyway. The worst part of the whole mess, and why I find no humor in it, was the amount of people who were in town when the quake happened thinking "this is it, this is the attack we've been fearing would happen for almost 10 years." I think DC is perfectly in rights to be jumpy. While it turned out to be nothing more than a large (for the area) earthquake, a good deal of the nerve-rattling was from memories and fears.

We all have enough to be worried about.

Next up! Hurricane Irene! She might be headed our way!


Anonymous said...

It was felt farther north then VT, we felt it here. Our downtown had building evacuated because of it, though I didn't feel anything. They say it was felt downtown here because downtown sits on a huge claybed that would feel it more. So it was felt in New Brunswick Canada.


Fyrecreek said...


I’m rather tired of people making jokes, though. People thought it was a bomb, or a plane crashing. When you don’t know what an earthquake feels like, but you do know what a plane crashing into a building feels like, there is going to be some panic. Experience earthquakers need to let up on us. They have no frame of reference for this.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you about people letting up on the jokes. Earthquakes terrify me, I've never felt one, and I hope to never feel one.


Fyrecreek said...

I've only felt minor ones, but I can say with certainty that I will NEVER move to an earthquake-prone area if I can help it. There are few things more unnerving than the ground moving without you, the rumble sound like a cross between a train, a roller coaster, a low-flying aircraft, and a truck, the feeling that what you're holding on to is just as unstable as you are. I can't even imagine how that would intensify with a stronger quake. It took me more than an hour to fall back asleep in the wee hours of this morning after an aftershock.

It's been 114 years since VA had an earthquake even close to that magnitude - outside of most peoples' lifetime. Some buildings were left so damaged that they need to be taken down now because they won't withstand hurricane-force winds. And it's raining pretty hard right now. Wind + soggy ground = things like trees falling over. It's a mess over here right now.