An earthquake (yes, an actual earthquake) was recorded about 100 miles off of Florida’s east coast Wednesday night.
The rare occurrence was confirmed by the United States Geological Survey. The magnitude 4 quake caused no damage or injuries, but it did create a bit of a stir.
The U.S. Geological Survey had received multiple inquiries about the earthquake by Thursday afternoon, said Paul Earle, a seismologist for the agency.
Earthquakes in or near Florida are unusual. Floridians know hurricanes, heat and even sinkholes, but sliding pieces of Earth’s crust — not so much.
Here’s what to know about earthquakes in and around the state, including Wednesday night’s small tremor.
How do earthquakes occur?
An earthquake occurs when “two blocks of the earth suddenly slip past one another,” according to the U.S. Geological Survey. When slow-moving tectonic plates get stuck, they will eventually overcome the friction and release waves of energy, which can cause the shaking that people sometimes feel.
Earle said earthquakes in Florida are often caused by a sonic boom or a munition test. However, Earle said the earthquake that occurred Wednesday night was likely natural.
The earthquake occurred near the continental shelf off the east coast. While these types of tremors are not unknown, this kind of earthquake is rare, Earle said.
The Wednesday earthquake
At 10:48 p.m. Wednesday, just over 100 miles offshore of Cape Canaveral, officials recorded a magnitude 4 earthquake, a small quake that can cause minor damage. On an intensity scale, the quake may feel similar to the vibrations of a passing truck.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, more than 140 people reported a “weak” shaking. The reports were along Florida’s east coast, largely from around Titusville to Vero Beach.
The earthquake was far too minor to cause a tsunami, Earle said.
Tim Sedlock, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service’s Melbourne office, said there had been no reported injuries or damage in the area as of Thursday afternoon.
Sedlock said that neither he nor anyone else at the weather service’s office felt any rumbles from the earthquake.
“It’s an exceedingly rare occurrence,” Sedlock said. “We haven’t had many earthquakes here. Most of them are probably even too small to be felt.”
How often do earthquakes occur in Florida?
Florida and North Dakota have the fewest earthquakes in the country, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
Earle agreed an earthquake in Florida is uncommon. However, he added that he and his team are often not looking for earthquakes that register smaller than a 2.5 magnitude.
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In the past 124 years, just 23 recorded earthquakes have occurred in or around the state, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, and of those, only five occurred within state boundaries. Some of these recorded quakes could be from non-natural causes, Earle said.
None has been recorded near Tampa Bay.
For context, Alaska — the state with the most earthquakes in the U.S. — has more than 300 magnitude 4 or 5 earthquakes a year, according to the Alaska Division of Geological & Geophysical Surveys.
But an odd bout of small earthquakes puzzled experts in 2019, when nine earthquakes (mostly magnitude 2 and magnitude 3) occurred along the Alabama and Florida borders in March and April.
What was likely the largest earthquake in Florida occurred in the late 1800s, Earle said. While there was no way to record the actual magnitude of the earthquake that likely occurred in Putnam County, records state it caused some damage.
Earthquakes don’t pose much of a threat to Florida. However, Earle said it’s a good reminder for Floridians, who often experience extreme weather, to keep their disaster kits prepared.