Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Earthquake in Virginia

Since it appears nobody got hurt, I feel OK saying that was pretty cool. I've never been through an earthquake before, and it was 5.9 so it wasn't unsubstantial either I guess. The walls were definitely shaking, and they evacuated us from the building for a while.

The epicenter was just a couple miles away from where my sister-in-law used to live in central Virginia, which was interesting.

I liked the response that my sister shared on facebook that is pretty typical in D.C. - first thought: "was it terrorists?*", second thought: "damn construction!".

Anyway, apparently there was a decent sized earthquake in Colorado too. I think, rather than do some googling to see how common this is, the only safe thing to conclude is that this is a consequence of the galactic alignment :)

UPDATE: Wow - and the Cafe Hayek comment section on Russ's earthquake post is talking about... you guessed it!... Paul Krugman. This moving into elementary school boys punching girls that they like territory.

* - As problematic as acting irrationally on concerns about terrorism is, you definitely think about it more around here, and probably not without cause.


  1. You've been through lots of earthquakes; you just never felt them.

    If it was a 5.9, then you're talking about the equivalent of 11-12 kt of TNT. If 6 then it jumps to 15 kt (if it were 7.0 then it would be a ten fold increase over 6.0, and so on).

  2. Well ya - you know what I mean. I don't buy any of this tree falling in a forest crap - I'm an empiricist, remember! :)

    There was apparently one during college that people could feel the shake from, but I was outside so didn't really feel it. I remember being disappointed about that - that was smaller, I forgot how big.

  3. Oh the humanity! Two whole comments making fun of Paul Krugman!

  4. 1. I count more than two, plus there are other broken window references without mentioning Krugman.

    2. Lighten up - it's funny. Who thinks of Paul Krugman after an earthquake?

  5. There are a number of fairly active earthquake zones on the east coast; one of the worst is around Charleston, S.C. It experienced an earthquake in the 19th century that would level city that exists there today.

  6. Daniel,

    People who want to make fun of him for his comments about preparing for an alien invasion. Krugman may be brilliant, but he does not sell his message well.

  7. Earthquakes, like dinosaurs, are one of those things I never grew out of from childhood.

    I experienced a 6.3 in the early 1990s; it was not pleasant. I've been through a bunch of 5.0-5.9 quakes, and they tend to be more "fun."

  8. As for the "was it terrorists?" query - since an earthquake is a far more common event than a terrorist attack that shouldn't be the first question to pop to mind.

  9. Ya, why don't you not tell me what I "should" think Gary. Besides, the last earthquake of this magnitude in this area was in 1897. We've had several actual or attempted terrorist attacks here just in the last decade, and I'm not exactly on the outskirts of town away from potential targets.

  10. Actually, there is no way you could know what the magnitude of any earthquake on the planet was in 1897 (the Richter scale was not created until the 1930s). So what you have there is an estimate of the magnitude (just like what we have are estimates of the magnitude of the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco - they range from 7.2 to 8.2 as I recall, though a lot of people I believe has settled on the high end of the 7.0-7.9 range) - it could have been higher than 5.9, or it could have been lower. Furthermore, many east coast states (including Virginia) have had significant earthquakes which we have no measurement for that the USGS has also not made an estimate for (remember, you can have a 6.2 earthquake in a sparsely populated area with zones of rock and soil that absorb the energy from the quake so as to minimize damage at a distance).

    Last I checked you have a 1 in ~130,000 chance of dying from an earthquake and you have (and this was from a risk assessment with the underlying assumption that terrorists could pull off a 9/11 style attack once a year in the U.S. - a poor assumption given how inept the terrorists seem to be) a 1 in ~100,000 chance of dying from a terrorist attack. On the other hand (according to the National Safety Council) you have a 1 in 6500 chance of dying in a car accident. These are all one year risks. Then again, to quote "Fight Club" (the movie), "On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero."

    The point of all this being that the risks associated with terrorism are overblown, but that poor risk perception has some decidedly negative consequences re: American foreign and domestic policy.

  11. Daniel,

    BTW, Virginia isn't the only place you could experience an earthquake; Americans are a highly mobile people, they travel into and out of areas with greater and lesser risk of death or injury due to earthquakes (or tornadoes, etc.). So your point about Virginia only having x # of earthquakes of such a size every so often is off point (the last I checked, there are a little under 1,000 5.0-5.9* earthquakes every year around the planet - some of these are obviously underwater, which can raise the concern of at least local tsunamis).

    *I should have noted that I am using the Richter scale exclusively and not the MMS.

  12. Well even today we only have estimates from measurements. It's just that since those measurements are designed to go along with the richter scale, they're more accurate.

    re: "Virginia isn't the only place you could experience an earthquake"

    Really? You don't say!


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