Should Florida worry about earthquakes? Don't be concerned, but they do happen

Earthquakes have been in the news recently.

A 7.6 magnitude earthquake killed more than 60 people in Japan on New Year's Day, followed by an unusual 1.7 magnitude earthquake that shook the New York City borough of Queens Jan. 2.

And in case you missed it, hours before the New York City quake, a 2.3-magnitude earthquake was reported west of Rockville, Maryland. People felt the trembling in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, D.C., and Pennsylvania.

But what about Florida? Are we safe from earthquakes? Can we cross that one off our list of disasters to prepare for?

How many earthquakes are there around the world?

The National Earthquake Information Center reports there are about 20,000 earthquakes around the globe each year, or approximately 55 every day. 

As of 11 a.m. Jan. 3, 41 earthquakes have been reported around the world over the past day.

The largest was a 5.5 magnitude quake west-northwest of Vinchina, Argentina.

Two of the smallest reported — with magnitude 2.5 — were closer to Florida: near Toyah, Texas, and McKinney Acres, Texas.

How many major earthquakes happen each year?

According to records dating back to about 1900, about 16 major earthquakes happen every year, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

That includes 15 earthquakes in the magnitude 7 range and one earthquake of magnitude 8.0 or greater.

The year with the most earthquakes was 2010, with 23 major earthquakes with a magnitude equal or greater than 7.0.

Have any earthquakes been reported in Florida?

Earthquakes reported in and off Florida.
Earthquakes reported in and off Florida.

Yes, there have been earthquakes in Florida, with most clustered in the northwestern Panhandle.

Other quakes have occurred in the Gulf of Mexico and in Atlantic waters off Florida's coasts.

There have been 22 earthquakes reported in Florida since 1992, immediately north of the state's border in Alabama, or off the coast in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The most recent earthquake reported in Florida was a magnitude 1.8 Sept. 3, 2020, west-northwest of Jay in Santa Rosa County.

What's the largest earthquake recorded in Florida?

The largest quake recorded in Florida was a 4.4 magnitude that happened on Jan. 13, 1879.
The largest quake recorded in Florida was a 4.4 magnitude that happened on Jan. 13, 1879.

According to the University of Florida, geologists agree the largest earthquake ever recorded in Florida happened on Jan. 12, 1879, about 11:45 p.m. It measured 4.4.

"A pair of 30-second tremors, possibly centered in the Palatka area, sent crockery tumbling off shelves and jolted startled residents awake in a large part of north Florida," UF said.

"According to news accounts, the quake was felt in Cedar Key, Gainesville, Jacksonville, St. Augustine and Tallahassee, among other cities."

Looking offshore, an even larger earthquake was felt in Florida after a 5.9 quake occurred under the Gulf of Mexico Sept. 10, 2006. It rocked Southwest Florida.

What is the largest earthquake ever recorded?

The largest earthquake ever instrumentally recorded — magnitude 9.5 — occurred off the coast of southern Chile on May 22, 1960.

The quake — along with several foreshocks and aftershocks — and the resulting tsunami brought death and destruction as far away as Hawaii, Japan, and the Philippines, according to NOAA.

The number of fatalities in Chile associated with both the earthquake andtsunami has been estimated to be between 490 and 5,700. The Chilean government estimated 2 million people were left homeless.

In Hawaii, the tsunami caused 61 deaths and 43 injuries, NOAA reported.

Two deaths and four injuries were reported along the U.S. west coast from 1- to 2-meter high waves.

The tsunami hit the coast of Japan almost a day after the earthquake, causing 139 deaths and destroying or washing away almost 3,000 houses.

At least 21 people died in the Philippines due to the tsunami.

The global impact of the tsunami led to the creation of the International Tsunami Warning System of the Pacific in 1965.

Most recent earthquakes reported in Florida

Eight of largest earthquakes reported for Florida since 1992:

  • Sept. 10, 2006: 5.9, Gulf of Mexico

  • April 18, 1997: 3.9, Gulf of Mexico

  • March 31, 1992: 3.8, Gulf of Mexico

  • June 11, 2001: 3.3, east-northeast of Saint Augustine

  • April 13, 2003: 3.2, Gulf of Mexico

  • March 7, 2019: 2.8, northwest of Jay

  • March 24, 2019: 2.7, east-southeast of Century

  • Sept. 3, 2020: 1.8, west-northwest of Jay

Why aren't there more earthquakes in Florida?

Florida is among the most geologically stable areas in the United States.

“We have had earthquakes in Florida — and we could have one today — but it’s not as likely as other places,” said Doug Smith, professor of geology and longtime director of the University of Florida’s seismic network in 2000.

He explained earthquakes tend to occur in regions near the boundaries of underground plates or at weaknesses in the plates themselves.

The closest fault line to Florida runs through the Caribbean Sea, just north of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic and south of Cuba toward Guatemala.

Florida does not include any plate boundaries, and the plate the state occupies is very stable, he said, adding there are no recent volcanoes and no none active faults in the state.

What area of Florida is most prone to earthquakes?

A region of North Florida bounded roughly by Jackson County in the west, Nassau County in the east and Volusia and Levy counties in the south appears slightly more likely to experience earthquakes than other parts of the state, Smith said.

The reason is the type of rock. Northern portions of the state have granite, with basalt can be found beneath South Florida, Smith said.

This article originally appeared on Treasure Coast Newspapers: Florida earthquakes: Largest, how often, most recent quake