GOOD QUESTION: How can you tell the difference between a sonic boom and earthquake?

Good Question

CHARLESTON, SC (WCBD) – Earlier this week, people who live in the Lowcountry were left wondering if an earthquake had hit as their home shook. It turns out, this time it was only a sonic boom.

But earthquakes are a common occurrence here. In this week’s Good Question, Matt asked: “How do you tell the difference between a sonic boom and an earthquake?” He also wondered, “Aren’t we due for the “big one” here in Charleston?”

We found an answer.

“The fault area is centered more up in Summerville instead of Charleston,” said Steven Jaume, a professor at the College of Charleston. “Earthquakes are normal here, mostly very small. Rarely like in 1886 are they big enough to do any damage.”

The last major earthquake we had in the Lowcountry was 133 years ago when a 7-magnitude quake rocked the area, centered around Summerville.

Jaume says earthquakes of that size are usually spaced hundreds of years apart.

“So, when you hear people say we are due for the big one, maybe not quite yet… but that’s the big one. We could have a medium one,” he said.

Many who felt their home shake a few days ago though we were having an earthquake.

Turns out, it was only a sonic boom. Here’s how you can tell the difference.

“I would ask the question, did you hear it more or feel it more, and could you tell which one was first? If it’s coming out of the ground, you will feel it more than you will hear it – and the thing you are hearing is not the earthquake, but the building shaking,” he explained. “If it’s something coming out of the air, you should hear it before you feel the ground or building move.”

Basically, pressure versus vibration – and knowing which direction it’s coming from can help as well.

“A sonic boom is coming through the atmosphere while earthquake waves are coming up from below. If you can tell if it’s coming down to you or up to you will also help you sort it out.”

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