As this is my last post of 2020, I needed to talk about something BIG. Yuge, really. I decided the only way to end such a crazy, upside-down year was to talk about the madness overrunning my homeland, Kansas.
Kansas, long known as Tornado Alley, had only 17 tornadoes in 2020. Over the same time frame, Kansas had 254 earthquakes, according to the Kansas Geological Survey. I even felt one when we were visiting family over Christmas.
It was small. There were six that day, according to the news and my mom’s tally marks on her scratchpad. The largest was a 3.7 on the Richter Scale. That measures as a ‘minor’ event. In lay terms, this means it was strong enough to be felt but not cause any widespread damage. Objects may be seen shaking but that’s about it. For Californians, this probably wouldn’t even register as news. But in Kansas, it was noteworthy.
My mom told me they had a 3.8 quake today. Still small by most standards; but again, enough to make the local news. In fact, the largest earthquake in Kansas this year was a magnitude 4.5. That is classified as a ‘light’ event that can cause minimal damage. Still, it represents an uptick in seismic activity across the Great Plains and Midwest. Thinking about the geological movement literally going on underfoot took me down memory lane.
Nine years ago, while watching my alma mater, Kansas State, play a football game against Oklahoma State in Stillwater, there was a magnitude 5.7 earthquake that qualified as a ‘moderate’ event. That ‘event’ knocked out the television feed to the game and ESPN commentator, Kirk Herbstreit, came on air to actually discuss the earthquake. At the time, it seemed noteworthy as unusual.
If only we’d known then that the relatively recent seismic activity in middle America would lead us to the disaster of a year 2020 has been. I kid, of course. But only just.
A quick scan from the USGS shows that Kansas and Oklahoma have seen a huge increase in earthquakes with magnitudes over 3.0 since 2014. Some say this is related to fracking. Others say there is no evidence. I’m not here to debate the oil or fracking industry. That’s for someone else’s blog. Rather, I wanted to take you further down memory lane, back to a college class I took called Natural Disasters.
It was a geography course during my freshman year (1995 – 1996, for those of you keeping score at home). I loved the class and the professor. He was just a guy who loved studying about Mother Nature. One of the disasters we covered was the New Madrid earthquakes during 1811 – 1812.
The New Madrid, Missouri, earthquakes are generally categorized as a series of three 7.0+ quakes intermingled with more minor events. There are newspaper accounts of the events, but they lack accuracy in reporting on size, damage, etc, of what could be expected from a news organization today. The other major difference arising from the 1811-12 quakes is there simply weren’t the number of people living in the area that there are now. In fact, one meteorologist, Hannah Strong, has theorized that a modern-day New Madrid earthquake would devastate the area. Buildings in Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma, or the surrounding areas, just aren’t built to withstand that kind of force.
For the record, there are numerous fault lines in the North American Plate. The New Madrid fault line is considered the second-most dangerous after the Cascadia fault. Interesting enough, these are both seen as ‘higher risk’ than their more famous cousins of Denali and San Andreas—at least, according to one publication, Strange Sounds.
In closing, there are minor fault lines running underneath many states. Perhaps, some of the recent seismic activity is directly manmade. Again, I’m not here to debate that. What I do want to say is that I wrote about fault lines in The Borderlands, but those were political and social fault lines that we have the power to fix. The ground shaking underneath our feet may be a different matter. At any rate, the increase in earthquakes across the middle of our country is not without historical precedent. Perhaps, 2020 really is the end of times. As always, this has been the World According to Chris. Thanks for tuning in and Happy New Year.