Monday, February 28, 2011

Shake it, baby

When you think of earthquakes, you don't think of Arkansas.  But our area does have the occasional small quake, and we're within range of the New Madrid fault should another big one hit there as it did in the nineteenth century.

The only earthquake I've ever been aware of was several years back.  I woke up in the middle of the night to a strange sound.  It was like someone was rolling a wagon across our roof.  I fell back asleep, and in the morning found out that a quake had been recorded at that moment.

Well, that's not the only earthquake I've been through.  There was one last night -- a 4.7 on the Richter scale, with the epicenter in Greenbrier just northwest of us.  Once again, I didn't feel it, I just heard it.  At 11 pm, right after the Oscars ended, I was in the kitchen making lunches for the kids to take to school the next day, and Noel was in his chair working as usual.  Suddenly he jumped up, and I heard a deep rattle out in the backyard, like a big truck going by.

"We just had an earthquake," Noel said, wide-eyed.  He described how his chair had shifted underneath him.  I hadn't registered the shake -- just the sound.

Quakes have recently become commonplace in Guy and Greenbriar, northern towns in our county.  Activity is recorded several times a day.  Many people believe it's related to the use of saltwater to "frac," or fracture, shale deposits from which natural gas is being extracted.  The jury's still out on the connection.

I wouldn't have been so spooked by the earthquake last night if it didn't come right on top of predicted strong thunderstorms and possible tornadoes overnight.  Before I could fall asleep, I had to do some reading to reassure myself that our quake wasn't related to the New Madrid -- it's from an unknown geological source, possibly connected to a small fault in northern Faulkner county -- and that the worst quakes in central Arkansas have been more frightening than damaging.  Apparently there was a 3.8 aftershock a few hours after the one we felt, and we seem to have slept through that one.

As the news of the frequent small shakeups in our neighboring towns began to pile up in the last few months, I didn't give the issue much thought, especially since I had the foresight to buy earthquake insurance last summer.  Even knowing that we're covered for any damage a bigger quake might cause, and that a dangerous quake is highly unlikely, I was disturbed by the reality of the temblor last night.  All of a sudden, you can't trust either the air around you or the ground under your feet.  The knowledge that there's little to fear works only slowly to dispel the anxiety.

1 comment:

Doc Thelma said...

I still remember my first "real" quake in Berkeley... a 5.something that shook everything enough to wake me up in the middle of the night. At the time it was terrifying; I thought someone was on my bed shaking it (and my roommate has moved out the week before, so I assumed I had an intruder.)

That was a year or so before Loma Prieta.