Virginia Earthquakes

By: Stacy Berman
By: Stacy Berman

February 27, 2006

With Central Virginia booming in the housing market and growing in population, most residents would never even consider an earthquake affecting their home or property, but it can happen.

Research shows that there have been hundreds of earthquakes in Central Virginia.

When people hear the word earthquake, Virginia doesn't necessarily come to mind, but as history has shown, earthquakes do happen here, and in fact they have been known to cause damage.

"Since the records have been kept, in fact there's roughly 300 earthquakes that have been felt in Virginia since the first ones that were recorded in the 1770s. There have been roughly 18 that have been over magnitude four", said Geochemistry Professor Stephen Macko.

Although the majority of the quakes are minor, under magnitude four, there have been times when a more moderate quake has struck, such as December of 2003 and August of 1897. Fault lines do exist in the Commonwealth, but to pinpoint their exact location is difficult.

"The locations where the epicenters are are not so well defined. We do know locations in Central Virginia, there is the Central Virginia seismic zone and then there's one west of Blacksburg, there's a seismic zone," explained Macko.

When building homes such as these, it's a wonder if there's any consideration to whether a moderate earthquake were to strike central Virginia. Would the homes withstand the shaking?

When building houses, "the codes are pretty rigorous for the kinds of earthquakes we would probably typically see," Macko added.

If an earthquake were to rumble Central Virginia or if we were to feel the effects of one from further away, an official said the entire state of Virginia would be ready. There is a state-wide building code for all public safety complexes, which means engineers have built the structures to withstand the shaking. Homes being constructed now will also adhere to these guidelines.

It is unlikely that an earthquake over a magnitude of seven will strike central Virginia. However, it is likely that we will see a magnitude four earthquake in the next century.


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