Archive for August 24th, 2011

I Feel the Earth Move…

I live and work in the DC Metro area.  So 2pm yesterday found me standing outside on an absolutely beautiful day for the simple reason that the ground couldn’t stay still.  Which, to me, has always been one of the defining characteristics of ground.

I’ve never actually experienced an earthquake before of any magnitude I could feel.  Last time there was even a minor quake here in the DC area I was, ironically enough, in California.  There was one more recently, but of a magnitude specifically defined as one that can be felt by half the people affected.  I was in the other half that time.

This time?  Really no mistaking it.  There was some initial rumbling that felt like it might be coming from the construction always going on in the area, and a few of us were joking about it being an earthquake, not actually believing it to be so.  Then the big shockwave hit, and it felt like someone body checked the entire building.  I was on the first floor, so my experience was rather mild compared to the 14th floor, or to my wife more than 20 floors up in her building.  But really, that was more than enough excitement for me.

I was helpfully informed by a sanctimonious Californian that the USGS estimates roughly 150 magnitude 6+ earthquakes happen every year around the globe, which means one more powerful than yesterday’s Virginia quake on average every 58 hours or so.  Perhaps I haven’t been hardened by a life living in the seismic zones of California where what happened yesterday is considered just a blip, but I also don’t really want to be in a situation where something like what happened yesterday is blase, something to point and laugh about the silly east coasters ducking and running out of buildings because the ground moved a little.


In the end, it was like the northerners that pointed and laughed when DC got shut down by a “mere” several feet.  It’s just stunning what people will get accustomed to, and what people will just carry on through.  I live in an area that these things aren’t supposed to happen.  We don’t get earthquakes, blizzards, hurricanes, or wild fires.  The DC area is probably one of the least natural disaster prone parts of the country.  Perhaps that makes me soft, I don’t know.  But it does say something about the resolve of humanity that these things can become common place.

And then I can only think about the scale of magnitude.  It’s logarithmic, which means that a magnitude 7 quake is ten times stronger than a magnitude 6 quake.  That’s what hit Haiti.  A magnitude 9 quake is a stunning 1000 times stronger.  That’s what hit Japan.  That terrifies me, largely because what hit yesterday left me shaken for a good three hours after the ground stood still.  I’m not going to say I now know what it likes, or say my experience was at all similar, because what I experienced and looking at how the scale works tells me that I can’t possibly know how those situations felt.  And that I don’t want to know.  And that I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.  I suppose what it gave me more than anything else was a frame of reference.

So don’t cry for me, I’m fine, was just a little freaked out when it happened.  And next time someone out there in the world gets hit by a real quake, and not just the shudder we got here in DC, reach out.  Help.  That is all.

Earthquake map courtesy USGS, release to public domain as work of US Government.

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