Apr 18, 2008

I Missed Another Earthquake

Seismic hazard map of West Salem earthquake that measured 5.2 on the Richter scaleSeismic hazard map of West Salem earthquake courtesy of United States Geological Survey (USGS)

One of the thematic consistencies of my life has been my seeming inability to experience an earthquake. Now, I know that those of you who have survived a major quake will be inclined to say something like "You would NEVER want to live through what I witnessed," but at some point I would like to at least feel the ground tremble beneath my feet, or maybe just a little side-to-side shaking, with a couple of pictures on the wall getting knocked off.

That sort of thing.

There was an earthquake measuring 5.2 on the Richter scale with an epicenter in West Salem, Illinois today, and people in my vicinity felt the quake. I slept through the 5:36 AM event, though my dogs were barking at that time. I like to think that the quake was detected by their heightened sensory abilities, but my wife believes they were barking at the newspaper delivery guy.

There have been a number of earthquakes centered in Lake Erie in the past two decades that I missed. During one Lake Erie earthquake in 1986, I was working on an old car I owned that had no exhaust, and the tremors were indistinguishable from the ground-shaking shock waves of that 1979 Subaru wagon. I also slept through a 3.2 magnitude quake in the lake in 1992, and the various subterranean rumblings in Lake Erie between 2003 and 2008 have all caught me unawares.

Even when I have traveled in earthquake zones I can't seem to catch a quake. I was in Palm Desert at a business convention during the 1992 Joshua Tree earthquake, which registered a hefty 6.1 on the Richter scale, but I slept through the event because I had jet lag and went to bed early. Other conventioneers spent the rest of the next day talking about the quake and the aftershocks, while I sheepishly had to admit I missed the whole thing.

However, I at least have one anecdote related to quakes: I attended a first-run screening of the 1974 Charlton Heston film Earthquake, which featured the novelty technology known as Sensurround. I remember being underwhelmed by the experience, as I expected something a little scarier than a low rumbling through the floor that felt more like a vibrating mattress, and there was also a problem synching the Sensurround system with the on-screen events. At a few points in the film, the rumbling started about a half-second after buildings were toppling around Heston's head.

Of course, my desire to experience an earthquake might be one of those situations that I could regret if it were to occur, so perhaps I am better off remaining blissfully ignorant of what it is like to feel the earth...move...under my feet (sincere apologies to Carole King).


Robin said...

You're not the only person to sleep right through it.

I was in school during the one that happened in the 80's. Didn't even feel it.

Tim Higgins said...


My experience was gained on the West Coast back in the 80's. We had over-served ourselves on the prior night, and I was feeling a little off of my game at breakfast when the even occurred.

While concerned, I have to admit that my only feeling was relief, as I found that my shaking coffee cup had a cause other than my own bad behavior.

microdot said...

I felt 2 in NYC...the eerie thing is that I woke up moments before they occurred and felt disoriented wondering why the tv antenna was jiggling....
Then, once, bike riding in Yorba Linda, California, I was coasting down a hill and I felt as iif the bike had hit something in the road...it jumped...it was so strange that I turned back to look for what I had hit. I found nothing, but turning on my radio, the airwaves were alive with reports of 4.2 tremor.
I am intensely interested in geology and, yes, I sympathize with you and felt some kind of intellectual satisfaction experiencing those minor tremors.

dr-exmedic said...

There wasn't much to feel in Toledo, Mike. If I hadn't been in bed, which seemed to amplify the effects, I probably would have missed it despite being quite awake--in fact, I wasn't even sure that I wasn't imagining it.