The reason behind SE Idaho's six-dozen earthquakes and why more could be on the way

No reported injuries or damage

Earthquakes rattle SE Idaho

SODA SPRINGS, Idaho (KIFI/KIDK) - The rumbles were constant, spread out by only minutes. More than six-dozen earthquakes have rattled southeastern Idaho and Northern Utah in just a matter of hours, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The largest earthquake registered as a magnitude 5.3 about 10 miles east of Soda Springs.

"That was a big one," Heaven McMurtry wrote on Facebook. "Felt it here for sure. T.V. shaking side to side and bed did the wave."

The 5.3 magnitude earthquake was followed by several smaller aftershocks ranging between a 2.5 and 4.5 magnitude. The agency said only slight damage occurs with earthquakes at that level of intensity. There have been no immediate reports of injuries or damage.

The agency reported an estimated 17,000 people felt shaking from the series of earthquakes. Reports of the quakes being felt have come from as far away as Idaho Falls and Salt Lake City, UT, a community of 200,000 people, about 133 miles from the epicenter.

"I had an odd feeling of slight movement here in Terreton, and wondered if it was an earthquake somewhere," KIFI/KIDK viewer Keri Rambaugh wrote on Facebook.

 The USGS's last reported aftershocks continuing into Monday, with at least six-dozen being reported. 

Six dozen earthquakes in one area may seem like a lot, but the experts say it really isn't. They blame it on stress.

"We've built up this tension, this stress on the fault plane and it ruptures, but it is not just sliding," Dr. Shannon Nawotniak, assistant professor at Idaho State University, said. "It is breaking pieces of the rock as it goes and you can take it as sort of dominos following. One piece breaks and then other smaller rocks take up the stress and then they start to break."

Think of it as stretching. The continent wants to spread out. The proof is in the mountain ranges of the area.

"The mountain ranges we have in south Idaho, and Utah and Nevada are linear. They are kind of like cat scratches if you look at a map. That is caused by the stretching of the entire crust through this region. It's called the basin range providence," Nawotniak said.

It is unclear how long the earthquakes will continue for. Nawotniak said they usually last for a few days, but have been none to last longer. Many experts believe more could be on the way.

"Sometime within the next 50 years, USGS says the so-called “big one” will start rattling southeast Idaho along the Bear Lake Fault," an article by Boise State Public Radio reported back in May. "They estimate the likelihood of a magnitude 6.0 quake coming in the next half-century at 63 percent."

The referenced study reported by Boise State Public Radio was conducted by a team of consultants affiliated with Idaho State University. 

"Along with damage to communities in the vicinity of the Bear Lake Fault, a large quake could also make remote towns even more isolated," the Public Radio article reported. "Power lines, natural gas connections and cell towers could all be decimated in the shaking."

Earthquakes are fairly common in Idaho, according to the Idaho Office of Emergency Management

"Hundreds of small earthquakes have been recorded in the state by seismographs since systematic observations began in the mid-20th century," the agency reported on its website. The last earthquake stronger than a 5.0 magnitude was reported in 1994, according to the agency.

The weekend quakes felt in Southeast Idaho and Northern Utah are just the latest in a series of earthquakes to be felt throughout the region. Yellowstone National Park in Montana and Wyoming, according to recent reports, has been hit by a record breaking 2,300 earthquakes since June.

In an article written by Newsweek, a University of Utah research professor is quoted as saying the swarm was “nothing out of the ordinary." The recent "swarm" of earthquakes has many wondering about the risk of the park's super volcano exploding. KIFI/KIDK looked into those concerns in early August.

"There's a low possibility the super volcano could ever erupt within our lifetime," Idaho State University assistant professor of geological sciences Dr. David Pearson said at the time. "It's much more likely one of these active faults would rupture instead."

Earthquakes strike suddenly and without warning, but the Federal Emergency Management Agency has a list of things you can do to prepare for an earthquake and hows to respond during and after the event. 

Before the earthquake:

  • Prepare Yourself and Your Family to:
  1. React Safely: Learn what to do during an earthquake. Hold periodic family drills to practice what you have learned. Through practice, you can condition yourselves to react spontaneously and safely when the first jolt or shaking is felt.
  2. Take Cover: In each room of your home, identify the safest places to “drop, cover, and hold on” during an earthquake. Practice going to these safe spots during family drills to ensure that everyone learns where they are.
  3. Survive on Your Own: Assemble and maintain a household emergency supply kit, and be sure that all family members know where it is stored. The kit should consist of one or two portable containers (e.g., plastic tubs, backpacks, duffel bags) holding the supplies that your family would need to survive without outside assistance for at least 3 days following an earthquake or other disaster. Make additional, smaller kits to keep in your car(s) and at your place(s) of work.
  4. Stay in Contact: List addresses, telephone numbers, and evacuation sites for all places frequented by family members (e.g., home, workplaces, schools). Include the phone number of an out-of-state contact. Ensure that family members carry a copy of this list, and include copies in your emergency supply kits.
  5. Care for People, Pets, and Property: Get training in first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) through your local chapter of the American Red Cross. Find out where you could shelter your pet should it become necessary to evacuate your home. Ensure that family members know how and when to call 9-1-1, how to use your home fire extinguisher, and how, where, and when to shut off your home’s utilities (water, natural gas, and electricity). Ask your state insurance commissioner about the availability of earthquake insurance in your state.
  • Prepare your community: 
  1. Consider becoming involved in local, voluntary programs that strengthen your community’s disaster resilience. 
  2. Investigate training and volunteer opportunities available through the American Red Cross. 

FEMA says during an earthquake to implement what you've learned and planned for in the preparing for an earthquake phase. 

After the earthquake:

  1. Once the shaking stops, check for injuries among your family and neighbors and, as needed, administer first aid and call for emergency medical assistance. Also check for hazards in and around your home created by earthquake damage. Keep in mind that aftershocks may strike at any time, exacerbating these hazards and requiring you to immediately drop, cover, and hold on.
  2. If it is necessary to leave your home, you may, in the days and weeks following the quake, need to seek emergency assistance from the American Red Cross. In the event of a presidential disaster declaration, assistance for housing and other needs may also become available from FEMA.
  3. Complete a FEMA emergency checklist

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