Idaho experiences “earthquake swarm” – now increasing each day

An “earthquake swarm” in Southeast Idaho has caused more than 200 tremors to rock the area since it began on Sep. 2.

It looked like the earthquakes were ending, or at least slowing down, on Thursday and Friday. But on Saturday, Idahoans experienced a series of 19 quakes, with 34 more that followed on Sunday, bringing the earthquake total since the swarm began to 204 quakes.

All of the quakes have occurred in the Caribou County area, east, southeast and northeast of Soda Springs, according to a report in the Idaho State Journal on Sunday.

The earthquakes have been felt throughout Southeast Idaho and as far away as Logan, Ogden and Salt Lake City in northern Utah.

The worst-case scenario, according to earthquake experts, would be for the swarm to end with a 7.0 magnitude quake, which would have the potential to destroy buildings and kill people. Fortunately, they say the chances of that are quite low.

Dr. David Pearson, an Idaho State University geologist who studies earthquakes, said scientists who have researched some of the faults in Southeast Idaho have concluded that the 7.0 quake is possible at some point in the region’s future, but the current earthquake swarm is not necessarily an indication that it will occur anytime soon, according to the report.

Because the faults in Southeast Idaho producing the earthquakes have not been extensively studied, it’s difficult for researchers to determine exactly when a destructive 7.0 earthquake could occur.

Pearson pointed out that the current earthquake swarm should serve as a call to arms, making it clear that Southeast Idaho has the potential to produce a “big one.” More research on Southeast Idaho’s seismic activity would result in a greater understanding of earthquake swarms.

In northern Utah, experts warn that the region can expect a major earthquake sometime in the next 50 years, which Pearson noted explains why Southeast Idaho’s smaller population and lack of destructive earthquakes has left the area largely overlooked.

One of the quakes in the “swarm” hit a 5.3 magnitude at 5:56 p.m. on Sep. 2. Such quakes can cause damage to houses and other buildings, and it had been years since Idaho experienced one that large. In comparison, a 7.0 magnitude quake would be at least 50 times bigger and is likely to inflict “considerable damage” to ordinary structures, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

So far, no damage to structures or injuries to people have been reported as a result of any of the 204 earthquakes that have struck Southeast Idaho since Sep. 2. However, there have been reports that the quakes caused some sink holes in the back-country of Caribou and Bear Lake counties, but these have not been confirmed.

Other locations where a 7.0 quake could happen include Fremont, Teton, Oneida, Franklin and Bear Lake counties, southeast Bannock County and eastern Bonneville County.

Pearson said the current earthquake swarm should continue for another week, but they could go on for several weeks or even months, in rare cases.

Southeast Idaho has never seen so many earthquakes in such a short time frame, said authorities, recalling that the strongest quake in the state’s history was a 6.9 magnitude temblor that struck in 1983 between Mackay and Challis. That quake killed two children and damaged several buildings.

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