How Likely is a Major Earthquake in the Ohio River Valley?
This morning, I noticed that the National Weather Service in Paducah, KY, posted that a 3.5 magnitude earthquake occurred at 8:45 AM this morning 2.3 miles east of Point Pleasant, MO or 29.2 miles south of Sikeston, MO. This came only weeks after a 6.1-magnitude earthquake hit central Italy and days after North Korea detonated a nuclear warhead causing a 5.3 magnitude earthquake. It made me wonder, how likely are we to have an earthquake here in the Ohio River Valley which rests in the heart of the New Madrid Seismic Zone which covers parts of seven American states: Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Oklahoma, and Mississippi.
I called around and finally reached the United States Geological Survey (USGS). I spoke with John Bellini, a Geo Physicist. John explained that earthquakes happen all the time in the New Madrid area - we just don't feel most of them. In fact, the New Madrid Seismic Zone (NMSZ) is the most active seismic area in the United States east of the Rocky Mountains. There were a few major earthquakes that happened between 1811 and 1812. One rated in the 8.0 Richter magnitude range and the other in the high 7s. According to www.geo.mtu.edu, an "8.0 or greater Great earthquake can totally destroy communities near the epicenter."
So, how likely is it that we will experience another major earthquake here in the tri-state? According to John, though they can't predict or forecast earthquakes, historically where there has been one major earthquake, it is likely that another could happen. Where would it be felt the most? Who knows... but here's a map of past earthquake epicenters in the area.
So, the long of the short of it is - though the tri-state has never been the epicenter of a major earthquake, because we live in an area that has been affected by major earthquakes in the past, it's likely that it will happen again but not guaranteed. So, we never know when or where. So, get prepared - you just never know. Here's more from the USGS about preparing for and what to do in the event of an earthquake.