When a conversation about earthquakes and “seismic activity” arises, most people think of California, Japan, and other famous places on tectonic plate boundaries. But one fault, located in virtually the center of the North American plate in Missouri, has been home to even more powerful earthquakes than one could ever imagine. The New Madrid fault, named for its proximity to the town of New Madrid, Missouri, is the location of the most powerful earthquakes in the history of America. In the winter of 1811-1812, a series of tremors hit this area that rattled windows in Washington, DC, stopped clocks in South Carolina, and rang church bells in Virginia. The largest of these happened on February 7th, 1812. The Richter Magnitude rating of these earthquakes is thought to be over 7.0.
“Why didn’t I know about this?” you ask. Well, only about 3000 people were living in the Mississippi Valley at this time, so there was not much damage taken. However, there are many more people living this area now. And the New Madrid fault is becoming more and more active. In fact, there is a 90% chance of a 6.0 or higher earthquake by the year 2040. And with the quite developed areas along the Mississippi, the damage today would amount to great loss of life and billions of dollars of repairs. This is why people need to be informed about this increasingly active fault zone in the central Mississippi valley. Though it is not on a tectonic plate boundary, it can still be seismically active and susceptible to dangerous earthquakes.
Today, this area is being closely studied to prevent the possible damage that could occur from the earthquake we know is coming. Thanks to this research, an earthquake now would be a source for useful information and studies, and not one for loss of life and billions of dollars. The New Madrid Fault is what it has been since 1812: an active fault zone that should not be overlooked.