Musings on earthquakes in Alaska and having been in them. Read what it feels like, what to do when a quake hits, and whether quakes can be predicted.
- Thanks for Asking about the Quake
- My First Earthquake
- The Three Waves
- Earthquakes in the News
- Can We Forecast Them?
- What to Do when the Earth Has an Attitude?
- Look of the Day
Thanks for Asking about the Quake
I have the sweetest readers in the World! When the news spread about the earthquake in Alaska my email box seemed to flow over. I’m doing ok. The earthquake was in Anchorage which is 1 hour flight southeast of Fairbanks. Nevertheless, we felt the earthquake pretty well. It felt like a 4 pointer in Fairbanks. It shook so much that we seeked shelter in a safe place in our house. To be precise, the pantry. Other save places in our house are the small upstairs bathroom, my closet, the downstairs bathroom and coat closet as well as the access to the crawl space.
A movie about an earthquake frightened the ten year-old me
When moving to Alaska, I knew I would live in an area where earthquakes are a regular, random (?) natural event.
As a kid I had once seen the movie about the big San Francisoc quake in 1906 that struck the coast of Northern California with an estimated moment magnitude of 7.9. In the movie, people fell into huge gaps ripped into the Earth’s ground. It frightened me at that time and scared the heck out of me.
To calm the 10 years old me down I was asured these huge gaps are just Hollywood special effects! Moreover, I was told that there we live in an earthquake-free zone, and the only movements that might occur are – if at all – only
collapse quakes due to the coal mining in more than 1000 m depth underneath our area.
If someone would have told me back then that about 30 years later, I would be in a 7.9 earthquake, which ripped apart roads, I wouldn’t have believed it. As a kid I was like “I will never move somewhere where there the Earth rattles and shakes.”Shaken, not stirred. - Commander Bond, James Bond #quote Click To Tweet
My First Earthquake
I didn’t spend any thoughts on earthquakes as a young adult except of learning the material about them in my geophysics classes that I took as an undergraduate. Then on April 13, 1992, the Roermond earthquake hit with shaked the ground for 15 seconds. the rocking and rolling was enough to open the doors of the mirror cabinet hanging over the sink in the appartment I lived back then. Some perfume bottles fell into the sink, but didn’t break or harm the sink. It had a 5.3 magnitude at the epicenter, but it was not frightening at all (as compared to the said movie). I could clearly feel three different waves back then.
The Three Waves
The release of tension yields to seismic energy that radiates as waves from the epicenter. The waves that traveling thru the Earth’s interior arrive before the surface waves that travel on the surface. The body wave is called P wave or primary wave. P waves are compressional and have a higher frequency than surface waves. The latter are transverse and referred to as S waves (for secondary). In addition, there exist the Love and Rayleigh waves.
The latter travel directly upwards from a solid, while former fail to have any vertical component. They just move from one side to another in a horizaontal motion, more like the movement of a rattlesnake.
Interestingly, in my oral comps for my doctorate seismic was one of the subjectcs my profs grilled me on. Everyone of my fellow graduate students had been questioned on upper atmosphere!
Earthquakes in the News
It’s interesting that the 7.0 Anchorage earthquake made it into the European news. In 2002, the Fairbanks 7.9 earthquake wasn’t even mentioned before 3 days after the quake. Maybe it was because there had been an earthquake in Italy in the week before that made a school collapse.
Can We Forecast Them?
Worldwide scientists work on better understanding earthquakes. Doing so is important to work towards being able to one day predict earthquakes and tsumanis. But it is for sure that the next weeks will be stressful for the people in Anchorage. A heavy earthquake like the one that hit Anchorage will have many aftershocks. These aftershocks can be high in magnitude too. Some of the stronger ones may be strong enough that sensitive people may still feel them in Fairbanks.
When we had the Denali Fault 7.9 quake on November 2, 2002, which was the strongest ever recorded in Interior Alaska, it was preceded by a magnitude 6.7 one on October 23, 2002. Therefore, we hope that the November 30 event was the major one and not just a foreshock. Back then in October 2002, some of my colleagues in the seismology department had said that the foreshock might had probably directly triggered the main shock. I still hear the chief seismologist sayThe Denali Fault is good for an 8 pointer.- Roger Hansen, former Alaska State Seismologist #quote Click To Tweet
What to Do when the Earth Has an Attitude?
In all Alaskan schools, work places, etc. people are adviced on a regular basis what to do when you find yourself in a quake. Infographics are everywhere in public buildings. They remind people what to do to ensure their safety. These infographics typically read as follows.
When your are indoors
- Never rush down the stairs
- Don’t leave the building while it’s shaking. Pieces from the wall or roof may fall off and hit you.
- Never use an elevators while the ground is rattling.
- Get under a desk or table, or into an inside hallway or stand against an inside concrete wall.
- Avoid exterior walls and windows, the vicinity of overhead fixtures like hanging lamps or decoration hanging from the ceiling, filing cabinets, bookshelves
- Stay away from equipment and electrical outlets
- Be prepared that the fire alarm or sprinklers might get on
- To help emergency and evacuation personal don’t use your cell phone or landline unless you have to call for a medical help or report a fire emergency and alike
- And yes, when you are in a public building, school or at work evacuate as instructed. Know you meeting points.
When you are outdoors
- Get away from buildings, power lines, trees and/or light poles.
How you can prepare? In Alaska, the road system is very sparse. This means that when a road gets destroyed an area may be cut off of supply. Therefore, always have enough non-perishible food including pet food and clean water in your pantry for several weeks. Also make sure that you have an emergency kit with all the medication that your family needs. Have an agreed upon “family meeting point” including a backup plan, in case that that meeting point may not be accessible. These points are just the general essentials. You can find more detailed info on what to put into your emergency kit/preparation on your respective state’s websites.
Look of the Day
Now to the outfit. It hasn’t been cold lately. Thus, I wore my plaid blouse and pliad skirt for a red-white and blue office outfit. For outside, I added my pea-coat and a beret.
Again thanks for asking. Why not signing up for the High Latitude Newsletter to keep informed on the newest fashion trends, style, Alaska life, and more.
I have a confession to make. I avoid elevators as I am afraid I could get stucked during a quake.
P.S. Still in need for a gift for your fashionable friend. Why don’t you buy her my book How to Dress for Success in Midlife with style recipes for all kind of dressing situations (except quakes)?
Photos: G. Kramm
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