When we think of earthquakes, we think of dramatic natural disasters that are capable of shaking whole communities to their knees. The images that stick in our minds are those of dismay along the San Andreas Fault and Haiti, both having long histories of tremors. Though these examples represent extreme cases, the earthquakes at the subject of this blog are far more mild: Maine earthquakes.
Yes, Maine has earthquakes, as does much of New England. I’m sure if you were in Southern Maine on the evening of October 17, 2012, you felt one of the strongest quakes (4.0) in the state in years. Unlike California, Maine does not sit on the end of a plate tectonic, rather it is smack-dab in the middle of one. The dramatic quakes we are use to hearing about take place along the convergence active fault lines. If you look at a map that shows plate tectonics, and set it against a map of earthquake frequency, it will become apparent that Maine is in no danger of having a “Big One”.
The average Maine earthquake comes in at about 2.0 on the Richter scale. Most of the time they go unfelt, only showing up on seismic instruments. Larger tremors manifest as just a wobbling, as many people brush them off, thinking it’s just the washer on spin-cycle. The most recent earthquake on October 17, 2012 was the largest ever in Southern Maine, and lasted only for a few seconds. No damage was reported but many people were startled, to say the least. Check out the below photo that shows a Waterboro’s Town Council meeting during the quake, not far from the epicenter.
Though the council people in this photo look like they are in imminent danger, they were not. The rumbling felt during this quake was only strong enough to knock a cup off a shelf, not destroy a building. Later inspection of Maine’s bridges found that zero damage was done to the infrastructure. So if you’re looking to buy a home in Maine, earthquakes should be the very least of your worries. If you have concerns about living a slow-paced life, close to mountains and the ocean, then Maine isn’t your cup of tea.
Due to Maine’s cold winters, there is also another way for the ground to shake. During especially chilly winters, cryoseisms (or frost quakes) are a possibility. Caused by an abrupt and deep freezing of the earth, frost quakes produce ground tremors and audible sounds, just like earthquakes. They are most common during the part of the winter when temps drop from above freezing to below zero. A lack of insulating snow cover can exacerbate this phenomenon though there is no real danger.