Seismologist discusses recent earthquakes in Lowcountry

Published: Sep. 29, 2021 at 11:19 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 30, 2021 at 5:15 AM EDT
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SOUTH CAROLINA (WTOC) - Earthquakes are nothing new for the South Carolina Lowcountry, but having three in one day is a little concerning to the general public.

Most are of a magnitude of one or two on the Richter scale. The third earthquake recorded near West Ashley Monday evening around 6:21pm was a 3.5. That is still a small earthquake but a little larger than normal. Many took to social media saying they were afraid of a big one on the horizon.

Thomas L. Pratt, Ph.D. a research geophysicist with the United States Geological Survey told WTOC, “You’re right in the sense that before the 1886 earthquake and the days before that there were a number of small earthquakes near Summerville, SC that in hindsight were foreshocks. So we can’t eliminate the possibility that these are foreshocks; it’s just incredibly unlikely because we get earthquakes out there all the time, so there’s no reason to think it’s anything leading up to a bigger one, but we can’t eliminate that chance either.”

Pratt admits there’s no way to predict earthquakes and how large they may be, but believes an earthquake with magnitude near seven like the 1886 Charleston earthquake is not likely.

“As far as we can tell, there’s fairly large earthquakes in the Charleston area about 5-600 years between them, and the last one was 1886. So, there’s no reason to believe there’s another one imminent; at the same time, we don’t that. We can’t predict them. This small seismicity like this, this small earthquake, these are fairly normal out there, so it’s expected you’ll see more of these,” said Pratt.

The 1886 earthquake was the largest recorded earthquake in the history of the southeastern United States; Savannah had nearly 300 structural damage reports. It was felt as far north as New York.

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