Honey, Wake Up. We’re Having An Earthquake!


Doppler and I were peacefully napping on the sofa when Helaine took to her feet.

“Honey, wake up. We’re having an earthquake.”

I opened my eyes and stared down at the couch’s fabric a few inches from my nose. The house was shaking.

5.1 earthquake in La Habra! My earthquake map says 19 miles from here.

Screenshot_2014-03-28-21-28-16KCAL 9 news was on. Within a few seconds they were in quake mode. A live seismograph jiggled across the screen.

Much like a bell that had been rung, SoCal was still shaking. It wasn’t strong enough to feel by this time, but more than enough to measure. The quake’s movement covered the entire graph.

Rides at Disneyland have been stopped. The LA subway and other rail lines have slowed down to inspect tracks. Choppers are flying over a water main, now flooding a La Habra intersection.

Tonight’s quake was actually a swarm of quakes. There were at least 10 greater than magnitude 2.0, a few stronger than a 3. We felt a few, though none as strongly as what happened at 9:09 PM PDT.

seismo plotStef felt it in Hollywood too. She had just hung something on the wall and was staring at it as it began to shake.

Back on TV, KCAL went to a live shot from a restaurant here in Orange County. There were broken bottles on the floor, but normal activity had already resumed. Californians have been through this before.

So, this is what it’s like.

Doppler slept.

I Follow Quakes

There was an earthquake just north of Puerto Rico twenty minutes ago. It’s likely any damage will be minimal with no tsunami. Just like weather and other sci/tech pursuits, I follow quakes.

EarthquakesOur government, the USGS specifically, does an excellent job analyzing the data and quickly posting the results. It’s mostly an automated process, so even on a Sunday evening there’s no wait.

On the left is their front page link to the Puerto Rico quake. There are two entries because the original report was revised.

Each quake gets its own series of webpages. The first page contains a map pinpointing where the quake happened, plus an academic description of local seismology. This one got, “Seismotectonics of the Caribbean Region and Vicinity.” Riveting prose.

More useful on an immediate basis are the DFYI and PAGER pages.

usc000m1w9_ciimDFYI (Did You Feel It) is an Internet derived ‘shake report.’ Regular folks try to quantify their experience. It’s very insightful when plotted on a map.

Most felt the shaking was light.

PAGER estimates the damage based on all the available data. Computer modeling at work. An educated guess. Tonight, it’s overdone. San Juan felt light shaking. PAGER says strong.

PAGER also predicts up to 10 deaths. Hopefully that’s overdone too.

Last Night’s Quake: It’s Tougher To Disregard Twitter

Not a TV network, not a newspaper, not a wire service, I found out on Twitter from Sean Percival (@Percival) who I follow, though I forget why!

Computers do a great job of keeping records. That’s why I know it was 2:27 AM EDT when I sent,

Seeing tweets from SoCal of possible earthquake. Nothing on USGS site yet.

Not a TV network, not a newspaper, not a wire service, I found out on Twitter from Sean Percival (@Percival) who I follow, though I forget why!


That’ll get your attention.

Next up was Ken Levine (@KenLevine), baseball broadcaster, former disk jockey (he was radio’s Beaver Cleaver), Emmy award winning writer for M*A*S*H and other shows.

Might have felt an aftershock. Since I don’t have THX and even if I did, the TV was off. I’m guessing aftershock.

By this time USGS’s automated system had spit out a series of web pages. It was listed at magnitude 4.4 (since revised to 4.5) in Yorba Linda, home of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library, in the OC.

The quake took place at 2:23:34 EDT. Percival’s tweet is time stamped 2:24!

USGS doesn’t predict quakes, but they do predict damage! A computer model, PAGER (Prompt Assessment of Global Earthquakes for Response) quickly assessed the situation. There was some worry, but not much. There was a 65% probability damage would be under $1 million, 95% it would be under $10 million.

Calculations for loss of life were similar. PAGER calculated a 76% chance of one fatality of less, 100% fewer than ten would die.

This time of day the cable news networks were rerunning their primetime lineup. Nothing. Even when Fox News cut-in for a scheduled live brief, nothing!

At 2:43 AM EDT I tweeted,

Fox News does live news update and doesn’t include quake. Seriously? Back to recorded stuff.

As was the case when Sully landed in the Hudson and with much of the Arab Spring, Twitter was there first. Studio based news wasn’t there at all!

I spoke with my Hollywood based daughter a few minutes ago. She and Roxie were on the floor when the earth moved. She felt it! Her first. If Roxie felt it she showed no signs.

Stef felt an aftershock (aka – another earthquake) within the last half hour.

I’m The Science Guy: Quake Edition

Earthquakes are felt farther in the east than the west because our crust is older, colder and harder. It just transmits vibration more efficiently.

I walked into the Hartford Courant building this afternoon and immediately ran into Hans Keck. Hans is our security chief and he didn’t look happy. There had been an earthquake. The drapes upstairs in the newsroom were swinging. We got into the elevator.

Note to self: Aren’t you supposed to avoid elevators in earthquakes? Damn.

By the time we got to the third floor the shaking had stopped, but the buzz was loud!

I’m used to being in newsrooms. The level of ‘newsiness’ is proportional to the level of sound. Something was obviously afoot.

I started yelling out in the general direction of those in charge. I know where to get seismograph printouts. I know geologists. How could I help?

A few minutes later I was on FoxCT with Brent Harden. We were reporting on the magnitude 5.9 earthquake in Virginia. It was felt up and down the East Coast.

As a meteorologist I am expected to be a science generalist. I’m supposed to know a little about a lot of scientific pursuits. I know quakes!

I had gone to my ‘go-to’ websites for maps and plots which we began to show on the air. Much of my specific Virginia earthquake knowledge came in the moments leading to being on-the-air. The USGS has a wealth of location specific info on their site if you just know where it’s hidden.

Today’s quake happened in an area known for seismic activity. There have been quakes before. There are no mapped fault lines there, but that’s not unusual. Most fault lines are quietly anonymous.

The quake was felt most strongly in a southwest to northeast line. That’s why Connecticut experienced some of the shake.

Earthquakes are felt farther in the east than the west because our crust is older, colder and harder. It just transmits vibration more efficiently.

Luckily damage is minor. Few lives have been disturbed. Now I can go back to concentrating on Irene.