History Of Earthquakes In Alabama

According the the U.S. Geological Survey, the documented history of small earthquakes in Alabama spans about 100 years and includes about six small- to moderate-sized damaging events.  Some of the earthquakes are outlined below.

Historical records indicate the first earthquake of consequence in Alabama shook residents of Sumter and Marengo Counties, located in the western part of the State, on February 4, 1886.

A similar shock occurred nine days later, on February 13. Both were reported felt at communities along the Tombigee River, but caused no damage.

Only six months later, the destructive Charleston, South Carolina, shock that was felt in cities all over the Eastern United States occurred. This shock, located about 400 miles east of Alabama's border, caused minor damage in the northeastern part of the State.

The largest earthquake in Alabama ocurred on October 18, 1916.  A strong earthquake(magnitude 5.10) occurs around 4 p.m. in an unnamed fault east of Birmingham, with the epicenter near Easonville in St. Clair County.

The earthquake caused buildings to sway in downtown Birmingham and tied up all phone lines in the city with 25,000 calls recorded at the main exchange in the hour following the quake. Two additional weaker tremors were reported that evening. At Irondale, 14 chimneys in a two-block area were partly destroyed, and six chimneys on a brick store were leveled almost to the roof.  Many other chimneys either were leveled to the roofs or were cracked so badly that they had to be rebuilt.  There were also reports in the quake area of  windows broken, and frame buildings "badly shaken." It was noted by residents in seven states and covered 100,000 square miles.

The most significant geologic result of the earthquake was on the Irondale underground water supply. Five wells in a one-block area of Irondale went dry immediately after the shock, and the water level in many others was lowered.

Aftershocks, small in nature, continued through October 28, 1916.

Another tremor that damaged the Birmingham area occurred on April 23, 1957. Centered near the Tennessee River below Guntersville Dam, the earthquake shook residents in southern Tennessee, western Georgia, and most of northern and central Alabama. Earthquake records for that year state: "Felt by, awakened, and alarmed many. Minor damage to several chimneys; one report of cement steps cracked in two; and several small cracks in walls. Table-top items tumbled to the floor."  The Montgomery Advertiser reported that "thousands of light sleepers were awakened by the shock" at about 3:30 a.m.

August 12, 1959: An earthquake centered in Huntsville, and felt over a 25-mile radius, causes minor damage. Many Huntsville residents at first believed the shock was the result of an explosion or missile test at nearby Redstone Arsenal.   It shook bricks from chimneys at Hazel Green; damaged one chimney and a newly constructed concrete block building at Meridianville; shook violently the buildings at New Sharon, knocking canned goods from shelves and sending frightened residents fleeing from their homes; and cracked plaster and knocked groceries from shelves at Huntsville.

Additional earthquakes (intensity V category) listed for this State that were minor and caused no damage centered near Rosemary, western Alabama, in June 1917; in the Scottsboro area northeast of Huntsville in June 1927; at Cullman, northern Alabama, in May 1931; and in the Anniston area in May 1939.

A few very slight shocks rated below intensity V have centered in Alabama since 1939, but are not described here because they were generally localized and felt by very few residents. However, A strong earthquake in southern Illinois in November 1968 caused intensity V effects in several localities in northern Alabama. The shock was the strongest in Illinois since 1895, and was felt over a half-million square miles in 23 States.

[The above history was abridged from Earthquake Information Bulletin, Volume 2, Number 1, January-February 1970.]

1975 Aug 29 04:22 4.4M Intensity VI
Palmerdale, Alabama ( 33.659N 86.5880W )
The earthquake cracked a sheetrock ceiling and shifted lamps on tables at Palmerdale, north of Birmingham. It caused slight damage at Watson, where furniture was displaced slightly. Also felt in southern Tennessee.

1989 Aug 20 00:03 3.9M Intensity VI
Near Littleville, Alabama ( 34.736N 87.6450W )
A Colbert County official reported that, south of Florence between Littleville and Russellville, a basement wall collapsed beneath a house. Only slight damage was reported north of the epicenter at Florence, where windows were cracked and hairline cracks formed in plaster. Also felt in Lauderdale, Lawrence, and Morgan Counties in northwest Alabama and Lawrence County in south-central Tennessee.

1997 Oct 24 08:35 4.9M Intensity VI
Near Brewton, Alabama ( 31.118N 87.3390W )
Felt (VI) at Brewton, Canoe and Lambeth; (V) at Atmore, Flomaton, Frisco City and Huxford; (IV) at Perdido and Robinsonville; (III) at Butler, Demopolis, Goodway, Mobile and Uriah. Felt (V) at Century; (IV) at McDavid, Pensacola and Walnut Hill; (III) at Milton, Florida. Felt (IV) at Leakesville, Mississippi. Also felt at Megargel; Elgin AFB, Florida; Biloxi and Gulfport, Mississippi.

In response to this quake, the U.S. Geological Survey in cooperation with the State Survey of Alabama installed a seismic monitoring station near Birmingham in 2001.

1999 Jan 18 07:00 4.0M
Alabama ( 33.405N 87.2550W )
Mine collapse.

[The above summaries were abridged from Seismicity of the United States, 1568-1989 (Revised), by Carl W. Stover and Jerry L. Coffman, U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1527, United States Government Printing Office, Washington: 1993 and from Preliminary Determinations of Epicenters Monthly Listing.]

On April 29, 2003 at 03:59:39 AM a 4.6 magnitude quake was centered about 15 miles East North East of Fort Payne, Alabama  34.494N 85.629W

The quake caused slight damage (VI) at Fort Payne, Graylesville and Valley Head.  Felt (V) at Flat Rock, Henagar, Higdon, Leesburg, Mentone, Rainsvilleand Sylvania.  Felt in parts of Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.

There were reports of cracked foundations and brickes fallen from chimneys at Fort Payne.  The water system at Valley Head also reported muddy water.  Some schools in the region closed as a precaution.

Source: National Earthquake Information Center., Alabama Department of Archives and History