What are the Chances of an Earthquake in Alabama?

In the NBC mini-series "10.5," a catastrophic quake is wiping the State of California off the face of the map. Hollywood hype aside, earthquakes are devastating. In a special report, WSFA's Rich Thomas explores Alabama's earthquake risk.

It wasn't anything like the massive, earth-rattling event you just saw in the movie " 10.5", but barely a year ago, in the early morning hours of April 29th, much of Alabama was shaking. Some people were tossed out of bed by a 4.6 magnitude quake that started in Fort Payne.

"It felt like a train was right next to my window," said one person. Was this a rare occurrence? Probably not as rare as you might think. A 4.9 quake hit Brewton in 1997.

"I would estimate there is probably one felt earthquake every year," says Lorraine Wolf, who teaches geology at Auburn.

Wolf says north Alabama lies in a hotspot of quake activity, the most likely place one would originate in our state.

Most of them aren't very large, maybe around a four magnitude. When we have minor structural damage, that might be a 5. 5 or 6 would be when dishes fall, chimneys break, and people get knocked down."

Earthquakes in the western United States tend to pack more punch., but don't rattle as far.

"When an earthquake happens here, the energy travels much farther than it does in the western United States. An earthquake in California would never get as far," adds Wolf.

And while quakes in other parts of the world can change lives and even history, one quake changed the course of the Mississippi River, you can be sure the next time a shaker rolls through Alabama 4.9 is about as big as it gets.

"I don't think we're going to see a magnitude eight. I hope I'm not wrong," says Wolf with a smile.

A little more than 20 years ago, Montgomery was the epicenter for a quake. It's not surprising if you don't remember it. Experts say it was only 2.5 and we didn't feel it.