The new year kicked off with a flurry of seismic activity around the United States, with more than 150 earthquakes in the United States; the start of 2023 began with earthquakes from California to Ohio, with abundant activity beyond the continental United States in Alaska, Hawaii, and even Puerto Rico.
Within the last 24 hours, there have been 102 earthquakes across the continental United States, according to USGS. Six of those quakes were rated as a magnitude 2.5 event or greater, with the strongest earthquake striking northern California on New Year’s Day. That 5.4 magnitude earthquake struck about 9 miles south of Rio Dell in northern California, not far from where a 6.4 magnitude event shook the region and left two people dead just weeks ago. On December 20, a magnitude 6.4 earthquake struck here and USGS scientists believe yesterday’s earthquake was an aftershock to that one. In addition to the two deaths, 27 homes in Rio Dell were declared unsafe for occupancy by local officials.
While California had the strongest earthquake in the country, it also had the most. Of the 102 earthquakes to rock the continental United States, 90 were located throughout California.
Within the last 24 hours, other earthquakes have struck portions of west Texas, central Washington, northern Utah, western Nevada, eastern Oklahoma, southeastern Missouri, and even western Ohio.
The earthquake which struck in southeastern Missouri struck in an area known as the New Madrid Seismic Zone or NMSZ for short. The NMSZ has a violent history that experts say will repeat itself, although no one is sure when it’ll happen.
While the US West Coast is well known for its seismic faults and potent quakes, many aren’t aware that one of the largest quakes to strike the country actually occurred near the Mississippi River. On December 16, 1811, at roughly 2:15am, a powerful 8.1 quake rocked northeast Arkansas in what is now known as the New Madrid Seismic Zone. The earthquake was felt over much of the eastern United States, shaking people out of bed in places like New York City, Washington, DC, and Charleston, SC. The ground shook for an unbelievably long 1-3 minutes in areas hit hard by the quake, such as Nashville, TN and Louisville, KY. Ground movements were so violent near the epicenter that liquefaction of the ground was observed, with dirt and water thrown into the air by tens of feet. President James Madison and his wife Dolly felt the quake in the White House while church bells rang in Boston due to the shaking there.
Beyond the NMSZ, the U.S. west coast and Alaska is more seismically active, sitting in a region known as the “Ring of Fire.” The Ring of Fire is a major area in the basin of the Pacific Ocean where a large number of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur. In a 25,000 mile horseshoe shape, it is associated with a nearly continuous series of oceanic trenches, volcanic arcs, and volcanic belts and plate movements. It has 452 volcanoes which amount to more than 75% of the world’s active and dormant volcanoes.
Within Alaska’s Ring of Fire zone, 2023 is off to a seismically active start. Within the last 24 hours, there were 37 earthquakes, with 6 of those at a magnitude of 2.5 or greater. There have been no reports of injuries or damage from thing ongoing earthquake activity.
While not in the Ring of Fire, Hawaii is also seismically active. Located over a hot spot in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Hawaii is world-famous for its volcanic activity, which is responsible for most of the earthquake activity there. Earthquakes also occur in Hawaii as dormant or extinct volcanic mountains around Hawaii settle. Over the last 24 hours, USGS says 13 earthquakes hit Hawaii, with two over a magnitude 2.5 event. The largest earthquake there, a magnitude 3.8 event off the west coast of the Big Island of Hawaii, rattled people out of bed when it struck at 8:34 am on New Year’s Day.
The unincorporated territory of Puerto Rico has also been shaking at the start of the new year. According to USGS, within the last 24 hours, 24 earthquakes have struck Puerto Rico or the nearby off-shore waters; 12 of those were a magnitude 2.5 or greater event.