An earthquake hit Florida on Thursday. How often does that happen?

There were no injuries or damage reported from the quake Thursday, though a lot of people reported feeling it.
The location on Thursday's earthquake on the Florida-Alabama border.
The location on Thursday's earthquake on the Florida-Alabama border. [ United States Geological Survey ]
Published Sept. 3, 2020|Updated Sept. 12, 2020

In the midst of a historically active hurricane season, Florida was thrown another curveball from Mother Nature on Thursday: A magnitude 4 earthquake on the state’s border.

While there was no reported damage or injuries, according to the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office, hundreds reported feeling the quake. It occurred more than 6 miles beneath the surface, according to the Geological Survey, and was the first of the year in the state.

Earthquakes in Florida are mostly limited to the Panhandle, according to Don Blakeman, a geophysicist with the Geological Survey.

They are rare in the Sunshine State. In fact, the official Twitter account for the Geological Survey wrote: “Speaking of earthquakes in enigmatic places, now there’s something you don’t see every day: an earthquake in (or very close to) Florida!”

Last year, however, Florida was at the center of an even larger earthquake anomaly. From March 6 to April 12, 2019, there were nine earthquakes that rattled the northern part of the state — perplexing experts. None of those quakes was as powerful as Thursday’s, however.

“They ranged from 1.9 to 3.1,” Blakeman said. “They were considerably smaller than the one today.”

Florida doesn’t see many earthquakes because the state is not on a tectonic plate boundary, Blakeman said, unlike places like Alaska, Japan or Chile. The movements of plates cause the interior of them to stress, which likely caused Thursday’s earthquake.

Most earthquakes in Florida are too small to cause significant damage, Blakeman said. But he also wouldn’t be surprised if people who live near Thursday’s epicenter had a couple of items fall off shelves. Damage isn’t likely to ever extend beyond that in the state, he said.

“No one in Florida should worry about earthquakes,” Blakeman said. “Honestly it’s just not a seismically active area at all.”

In general, the eastern United States isn’t very susceptible to powerful earthquakes, though, on rare occasions, quakes have caused damage east of the Mississippi.

In 2011, a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in Virginia cracked the Washington Monument. An earthquake in Charleston, S.C. in 1886 destroyed much of the city, according to the Geological Survey’s website.

While it didn’t hit Florida directly, a number of Floridians also felt the rumble of a magnitude 7.7 earthquake near Jamaica in January.