Major earthquakes in Southern Utah; morning brings lesser, 3.4, 2.5 magnitude tremors

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ST. GEORGE — A magnitude 3.4 earthquake registered south of Littlefield, Arizona, in the early morning hours Friday, large enough to glance at but not particularly extraordinary, while an even smaller quake registered north of Hildale. Though these are lesser, Southern Utah and its surrounding areas have experienced greater quakes – four that may be considered major in Southern Utah over the past century or so.

Recent earthquakes map by U.S. Geological Survey Friday afternoon; yellow dots are those that occurred within the past week, orange dots are those that occurred within the past day | Map courtesy of USGS, St. George News
Recent earthquakes map by U.S. Geological Survey Friday afternoon; yellow dots are those that occurred within the past week, orange dots are those that occurred within the past day. April 8, 2016 | Map courtesy of USGS, St. George News

The magnitude 3.4 quake shook Arizona at 3:24 a.m. MDT 42 miles south of St. George, followed by the magnitude 2.5 quake 10 miles north of Hildale at 5:26 a.m. MDT.

Though the Arizona quake was a bit more sizable, it is one of several in the overall region in the past week. Southern Utah and its surrounding region is seismically active.

The U.S. Geological Survey map inset to the right shows one week’s activity, orange dots marking quakes that have occurred within a day, yellow marking those in the past week.

Experts in the field agree that earthquakes are unpredictable and a small quake is not to be taken as a precursor to a large quake. A larger quake could occur tomorrow just as easily as it may not occur for a hundred years or more.

Read more: Southern Utah is earthquake country

In the last 120 years there have been four major temblors that have rattled the Southern Utah area.

Nov. 17, 1902, Pine Valley

Special Correspondence.
Pine Valley, Washington Co., Nov. 17

The earthquake that visited this region was the greatest sensation that the citizens here ever experienced. The severity of the first shock that came at 12:50 p.m. carried terror to most of the people. Women fainted while others gathered their sick children in their arms and fled out of their homes. One sister was just lighting a fire in her fire place when the bricks began to come down the chimney. In trying to get out of their houses the people were hit by the swaying doors and jambs. The last of six distinct shocks was felt at 1:20 p.m. The damage was done by the first shock which lasted just a minute by the watch. Clocks were stopped and ornaments shaken down and broken. The bricks falling from the meetinghouse chimney started Bishop Snow’s team to run and he had all he could do to stop them, though he had the brake on and lines tied to the brake.

The air seemed filled with electricity and everybody felt its effects. Dust was seen to rise in the mountains, and those up the canyons saw great rocks weighing many tons torn from their place on the mountain sides and dashed down into the canyons below. In Grass valley not a great way from the head of the field, a great rock of several tons was rent from the mountain side, swept the pinion pine and cedar trees before it and nearly buried itself as it struck the level ground.

— Deseret Evening News, November 22, 1902

The area had been jolted with an earthquake, estimated magnitude 6.0. It was felt over a wide area, from Salt Lake City to St. George. It was initially thought that a dormant volcano in Beaver County had erupted, but that was quickly discounted. Up to eight aftershocks quickly rattled the already shaken area.

There were in all nine shocks, all being over by 1:30. The first shock was very severe, shaking down chimneys, and in some cases being so violent that pictures hanging on the walls were turned around with face to the wall. The new school building was so shaken up that the ceilings were cracked and shattered and all the plaster fell down.

The panic there was so great that the children ran pellmell from the building. The teachers, losing all control of the pupils, rushed to the head of the stairs, endeavoring to save them from falling headlong in their wild panic and being trampled to death. One little girl fainted and was carried out by one of the big boys. The shocks continuing, school was adjourned for the day.

Reports from the Santa Clara, west of here, say that not a chimney remains standing. One house in Pine valley is ruined. During the shocks clouds of dust rose just north of here, rocks rolled from the hills, buildings shook as with the ague, clerks ran from the stores, women ran from the houses with their children in their arms and confusion reigned supreme.

The tower of the temple oscillated ten inches at its top, and it is feared that the spire on the tabernacle is shaken from its perpendicular. More and heavier shocks are predicted tonight.

— Salt Lake Herald, November 18, 1902

Back in 1902, earthquakes were not really understood as well. The cause was thought to be known.

Of course earthquakes are attributed to volcanic disturbances or great landslides on the interior of the earth. Either of these disturbances causes waves of vibration to travel through the earth’s crust, much in the same manner as waves move on a basin of water when a small pebble is dropped into the liquid. The waves travel in concentric circles. They travel more rapidly and with much more violence through strata of rock. Consequently, places underlying which are great rock beds will feel the shock of an earthquake where a town not above such a stratum of rock will not feel the disturbance at all.

— Salt Lake Herald, November 18, 1902

While at the time it was believed that the earthquake was centered in Pine Valley, modern seismologists now place the epicenter of the quake closer to Enterprise.

August-September 1942, Cedar City

Two magnitude 5.0 quakes within a month struck Cedar City.

Probably the hardest and most prolonged quake of the series occurred at 9:50 a.m. Saturday, when chimney bricks were loosened at several homes, a huge plate glass window at the Peoples market was cracked and numerous residents reported cracks in walls and plaster. The final quake lasted for nearly three seconds…Saturday’s earthquakes were the eighth distinct shocks felt by residents here since August 30, when the first one interrupted the Sunday dinner hour.

— Salt Lake Tribune, September 27, 1942

None of the shocks were felt in St. George or Parowan. According to the 1942 Tribune article, Parley Dalley, a geologist at the Branch Agricultural College, said that the Hurricane fault was “undergoing considerable readjustment.”

July 1959, Kanab

A sharp quake followed by a rolling motion hit Kanab on July 21, 1959. Measured at magnitude 5.0 and centered in Fredonia, Arizona, it struck the area at about 10:45 a.m.

Rob Bickmore, Kanab police chief, reported that bricks fell from at least one house chimney. Plaster was shaken from the walls of the Kane County Courthouse. Water sloshed from a fish aquarium inside the residence of Mrs. Garn Swapp.

Forrest Forbush, Utah Highway Patrol weighman at the Kanab checking station, said he noticed the quake for about 10 seconds. Others reported feeling it for as much as two minutes. Mr. Forbush watched its waving motion along the earth’s surface. Inside the checking station, the radio, typewriter and microphone rattled.

A truck driver told Mr. Forbush that he “thought his steering had gone haywire” as he drove along the highway toward Kanab.

Most common phenomena near the epicenter of the quake in Fredonia was the breakage of dishes and vases in homes, foodstuffs in cans tumbling to the floors of markets and window breakage. There were no reported injuries.

Lowell Ford, Page, Ariz., said it was the worst quake he had experienced in the area in 40 years. Several persons said the quake exceeded in severity a reasonably strong quake of 15 years ago.

— Salt Lake Tribune, July 22, 1959

The quake was felt over a wide area, as far away as Flagstaff, Arizona, 195 miles south.

Sept. 2, 1992, St. George

A magnitude 5.6 temblor struck Southern Utah just before 4:30 a.m. causing damage to homes and businesses in St. George, Cedar City, Hurricane, Kanab, Santa Clara, Toquerville, Virgin and Washington. A large landslide destroyed three homes in Springdale.

Once again the culprit was the Hurricane fault, United States Geological Survey seismologist Chris DuRoss said, adding the dip-slip (vertical movement) faults in Utah are different from the slip-strike (horizontal movement) faults in California.

“What we have here, in Utah, are normal faults,” DuRoss said. “These are faults that actually dip down below the ground surface. So when you see it on the surface it dips down, either typically to the west or to the east. In St. George and Cedar City, then the faults dip down below these communities.”

That’s important, DuRoss said, because when the fault moves during a large earthquake, that movement of the rock is what causes the intense shaking. The seismic energy is released, coming up through the crust, and shaking areas on the surface.

Predicting the next earthquake

“It’s just not possible, given our current technology,” DuRoss said of predicting earthquakes. Indeed, you will see numerous news reports and websites claiming they have found a way to predict quakes. The claims made are no better than random chance, though, he said.

The best that seismologists have done is predict a quake within three to five seconds before the shaking starts, or to say that there is a percentage chance that a quake will hit within the next 30-50 years.

A well known earthquake forecast was in Parkfield, California, a small unincorporated town of 18 residents on the central coast. Large earthquakes shook Parkfield in 1857, 1881, 1901, 1922, 1934 and 1966. Excluding the 1934 temblor, the data showed that Parkfield experienced an event every 22 years, give or take four years.

Based on that data, The National Earthquake Prediction Evaluation Council predicted that an earthquake of magnitude 6 or greater would hit the small community between 1988 and 1993. A massive sophisticated net of instruments was set up to monitor the expected earthquake, but there was no activity on the fault until 2004, when a magnitude 6.0 quake rattled the area.

Finally, while earthquakes cannot be accurately forecast, preparations can be made in the event that a large quake does rattle the area. A good guide to preparations and what to do in case of a quake is located here.

St. George News Editor-in-Chief Joyce Kuzmanic contributed to this report.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews | @NewsWayman

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

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  • Pheo April 8, 2016 at 3:50 pm

    I assume that “major” in the headline is referring to the historical quakes, and not a 3.4 magnitude quake, which is notable for being felt near the epicenter and not causing damage.

    • Joyce Kuzmanic April 8, 2016 at 4:35 pm

      Correct Pheo, thus the semicolon – two birds, one stone: Major quakes in local history; lesser quakes today. We have clarified the headline. 😀
      Joyce Kuzmanic
      Editor in Chief

  • Outsider April 8, 2016 at 5:39 pm

    It’s a way to attract viewers. There was a small earthquake the day after warren Jeffs predicted one to destroy the infidels, so if we put major earthquake in the headline it will attract readers. That’s the truth pheo.

    • .... April 9, 2016 at 4:12 pm

      It is the truth, but we’re not allowed to say it !

  • Billy Madison April 8, 2016 at 6:17 pm

    Yeah yeah, quit with all the talkin, someone go check to see if Warren is still in his cell.

  • mesaman April 9, 2016 at 10:41 am

    No earthquake, it was the socialists stampeding to get to their caucus. And all those college aged voters among them.

    • RealMcCoy April 9, 2016 at 4:07 pm

      From what I’ve seen his supporters are all socialist college aged voters.
      And ed.

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