Earthquakes in Boone County
By: Hillary Delaney
In November of 2012, many local residents were startled by what seemed to be a loud explosion. Vibrations were felt throughout our area, and news reports confirmed we had experienced an earthquake. Granted, this wasn’t a building-toppling, life-threatening event like quakes occurring in Japan or our own West coast, but it wasn’t an isolated case. In fact, Boone County has experienced tremors from the earliest days of settlement to just a few months ago.
Our area is located within “shaking distance” of two major seismic zones: the New Madrid fault and the Wabash Valley fault. Quakes from these zones have been recorded here since the late 1700’s. Early reports of a quake in 1792 came from Northern Kentucky, according to Kentucky Emergency Management.
The most dramatic example of seismic activity reported in our area began in mid-December 1811. A series of several earthquakes and aftershocks occurred over a period of about 2 ½ months. Three of these quakes measured at or above 8.0 magnitude, which places them in the “major event” category. For comparison, the devastating 1906 San Francisco earthquake measured at 7.8 magnitude. The epicenter of the 1811 quake was in New Madrid, MO, but the effects were felt here in our area and far beyond. Lexington’s Kentucky Gazette newspaper ran an account from a Cincinnati witness to the first of these events, on December 17th 1811. The witness reported a series of at least eight tremors, some of which lasted several minutes, and chimneys tumbling from the rooftops on both sides of the river.
There have been tremors felt in our area every decade since the historic New Madrid quake. IN 1895, there was a 6.8 magnitude quake which was reported in the Boone County Recorder. This tremor was felt all along Kentucky’s southern and western borders, though it did little damage in our area.
In 1980, the largest earthquake with its epicenter in Kentucky caused concern among local residents. The 5.2 magnitude quake originated in Bath County, KY. This epicenter was much closer to us than past events, and its severity is considered “moderate to serious” in modern measurement standards. Local accounts include: shaking, cracks in walls, and items falling from shelves.
In April, 2008, an earthquake in Illinois caused widespread damage throughout several states. Here in our area, there was significant coverage in the news of this tremor. It occurred at about 3:30AM, which may have alarmed more residents than a daytime event. Fortunately, scientific models show that Boone County is more likely to experience a minor shake than a major quake.