3 earthquakes rumbled off RI over the weekend, but you were probably sleeping

·3 min read

If you missed the three earthquakes off Rhode Island last weekend, don't feel bad. They happened while many Rhode Islanders were sleeping, and they weren't strong enough to knock the alarm clock off the nightstand.

The earthquakes happened in less than 24 hours from early Saturday morning to early Sunday morning in the same area, about 11 miles northeast of Block Island.

All were considered minor, or "very tiny," as they were characterized by Don Blakeman, a geophysicist at the National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colorado, part of the U.S. Geological Survey.

This image from the U.S. Geological Survey's website shows the location of three earthquakes over the weekend.
This image from the U.S. Geological Survey's website shows the location of three earthquakes over the weekend.

The first hit at 4:42 a.m. Saturday and was 2.1 magnitude, according to the National Earthquake Information Center. It was reported by two people, the website Earthquaketrack.com says.

The next, and strongest, hit at 10:15 p.m. Saturday, registering 2.2 magnitude. Twenty-six people reported it.

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The third hit early Sunday morning, at 2:40 a.m. It was 2.0 magnitude and reported by two people.

With three in a row, could the region see more?

"We certainly could see more of those small quakes – or not," Blakeman said.

Why do we feel small earthquakes on the East Coast?

Scientists cannot predict when earthquakes will happen, he said. Scientist do know, however, that earthquakes are likely to occur again in the same locations, because earthquakes are indicative of a fault line, he said.

The weekend earthquakes were too weak to damage a building or even knock books off a shelf, according to Blakeman.

"This energy won't travel very far," he said. "People would have to be close to feel it."

"Little earthquakes are felt much more easily in the East than the West," Blakeman said, because the Earth's crust is more rigid in this region.

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An earthquake would typically have to reach magnitude 5 or greater to damage a structure in the United States, he said. Earthquakes of magnitude 9 or above, he said, "are extremely rare."

Strong earthquakes are unusual in the Northeast, according to Blakeman. But earthquakes do happen here, according to the National State Emergency Consortium, which reports that Roger Williams, founder of what's now Rhode Island, wrote about an earthquake in 1638.

How many earthquakes have there been in Rhode Island?

A total of 34 "felt" earthquakes were centered in Rhode Island between 1776 and 2016, the National State Emergency Consortium reported. The strongest was a 4.6 magnitude quake on June 10, 1951.

The 1951 earthquake was centered a few miles south of Westerly and "was felt across Connecticut, Rhode Island and the south coast of Massachusetts to Cape Cod," the consortium said.

More recently, on Dec. 1, 2019, a 2.0 magnitude earthquake was recorded off the coast of Newport, and another was reported two days later off Plymouth, Massachusetts, with a magnitude of 2.1. On Sept. 19, 2021, a 2.6-magnitude earthquake was recorded southeast of Block Island.

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Even though the chances of a damaging earthquake are "very remote" in the Northeast, people can find tips for preparing on the National Earthquake Information Center's website, Blakeman said.

That information could help ease their minds and prepare them, he said, if a big earthquake does strike.


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On Twitter: @jgregoryperry

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This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: Earthquakes off Rhode Island coast occurred northeast of Block Island