WCBD-TV A Moment of Science: Recent California earthquakes made national headlines and reactions went viral: from the pool, to the stadium, to a newsroom like ours. The ones in early July were strong, measuring 6.4 and 7.1 on the Richter scale with weaker aftershocks. Tremors at this magnitude are not uncommon in the region, the last quake like this in southern California happened 20 years ago.
Stepping back in time over 130 years, and crossing the country to our backyard-
We saw a quake of similar, if not stronger, magnitude. The historic 1886 Charleston Earthquake’s magnitude is strongest the region had and has seen in recorded human history. But recorded human history is quite short compared to the geologic timeline- evidence points to several more large earthquakes that occurred in South Carolina over the past 5,000 years.
Before you jump to any conclusions- there are no indications that recent seismic activity worldwide is a sign that our next quake is on the way, and there is no timeline that earthquakes follow.
We are not “overdue” for a big one.
Forecasting quakes well ahead of time? Impossible. Steven Jaume with the College of Charleston’s Geology department has been studying earthquakes in the Charleston area for years and offers some clues before the next devastating tremor.
“We do know from the previous big one, 1886, that there was a swarm of smaller earthquakes in the days leading up to it. So yeah, if there’s starting to be a swarm in Summerville- you’d hear me on the news.”Steven Jaume, CofC Geology Professor
And if you do feel a bit of a shake, don’t immediately think the big one is around the corner. He continues:
“Most of the time they are fairly isolated. They normally don’t come in swarms… of more than 2 or three at a time, but if there was 20 or 30- that would be different and we’d pay more attention. But even that doesn’t mean anything big is going to happen. Because we know swarms sometimes lead into larger earthquakes but most of the time they don’t.”
Little quakes aren’t uncommon here-nearly 30 earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or less have been recorded in the Charleston area just in the past 5 years. In next week’s moment of science, we explain where that cluster is and how geologists are using that data and new technology to determine exactly where our fault lies.
Storm Team 2 Meteorologist David Dickson