Texas Earthquakes: Tremors in the Past, Present, and Future

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Though not as prevalent as in California, Texas earthquakes have plagued the state over various times in history. Though most major earthquakes remain in Texas’ past, even today, the earth still trembles in parts of the state. Knowing your chances of feeling a tremor and what to do in the event of one will help you to be ready if you experience one.

How Earthquakes Happen

Texas Earthquakes Often Occur Along Fault Lines

Photo: Flickr/Lisa Andres

Earthquakes occur from a rapid slippage of earth on either side of fault lines. The land may move down along the fault or push parallel to the fault. Generally, for this to happen, the fault itself needs to be under stress. The movement during the earthquake alleviates the stress on the fault for a while, until it builds up and the next earthquake occurs.

Texas Geology

Fault zones along the edge of the Texas Hill Country

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Texas has a highly dynamic geology that includes the rise and fall of mountain ranges over the course of millions of years. The Texas Hill Country lies beneath an ancient mountain range that once included active volcanoes. Perhaps the most obvious piece of Texas geology that attests to earthquakes in the state is the system of fault lines that run from northeast to southwest along the eastern boundary of the Hill Country. The most well-known of these is the Balcones Fault. To the west, the land is uplifted, while the Gulf Coast sinks to the east. This fault, though it experienced ancient earthquakes, is considered geologically inactive today. Other faults exist near El Paso, Dallas, and even in Houston. Though the majority of these faults have not shown recent activity beyond slow slippage, some shaking near the Dallas area and El Paso have prompted scientists to take another look at the faults in these areas to see if they are under stress and pose a hazard of future earthquakes.

Past Texas Earthquakes

El Paso saw the only earthquake death in nearby Ciudad Juarez in 1923

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Texas has experienced some major earthquakes in the past. Some have ranged between five and six on the earthquake scale, which indicates a heavy tremor felt over a large area. In recorded history, the first mention of a Texas earthquake was in 1847, when both papers in New Braunfels and Seguin indicated the earth shook. By far, the heaviest earthquake in the state was a 6.0 on the Richter scale near Valentine, in West Texas, in 1931. Neither of these earthquakes or many of the 110 from 1847 to today caused significant damage, though, in 1923, one man died in Ciudad Juarez when his house collapse after a 4.7 that hit El Paso.

Texas Earthquakes Today

Some Texas Earthquakes in the Northern Part of the State May Have Come From Humans

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Many Texas earthquakes today occur in areas near oil well fracking. Fracking forces water underground to loosen the oil from the rock. In some cases, it could shake up already existing fault lines or it might cause shaking without a fault nearby. The origins of earthquakes linked to fracking remain unclear with geologists at odds as to whether the fracking directly caused the Texas earthquakes. It seems, though, that if you live in north Texas or areas of west Texas where fracking commonly occurs, you should be ready for some shaking. In fact, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) indicates that a 6.0 earthquake is not out of the realm of possibility for north Texas.

What to Do During an Earthquake

USGS Shows Texas Earthquakes are a Possibilty

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

If an earthquake occurs in your area, don’t panic. The safest place to be is under a sturdy table, which will protect you from anything that falls. Most earthquakes in Texas, though, last only a few seconds and are light enough to not be felt or cause damage.