Texas Earthquakes

Texas Earthquakes

Texas Earthquakes

Texas Earthquakes


When nature goes haywire in Texas, it isn't usually an earthshaking event. Though droughts, floods, tornadoes, and hail all keep Texans talking about the unpredictable weather, when it comes to earthquakes, most of us think we're on terra firma in this state. But we're wrong! Nearly every year, earthquakes large enough to be felt by the public occur somewhere in Texas.

This entertaining, yet authoritative book covers "all you really need to know" about earthquakes in general and in Texas specifically. The authors explain how earthquakes are caused by natural forces or human activities, how they're measured, how they can be predicted, and how citizens and governments should prepare for them. They also thoroughly discuss earthquakes in Texas, looking at the occurrences and assessing the risks region by region and comparing the amount of seismic activity in Texas to other parts of the country and the world. The book concludes with a compendium of over one hundred recorded earthquakes in Texas from 1811 to 2000 that briefly describes the location, timing, and effects of each event.


The great pop artist Andy Warhol once said that in the future, everybody will be famous for fifteen minutes. If you are a Texas earthquake seismologist, Warhol’s prophecy comes true every time a major earthquake occurs. So, what happens to a seismologist when an earthquake happens? Both the authors of this book, Scott Davis and myself (Cliff Frohlich), are seismologists, and this is what happened to us on Thursday evening, 13 April 1995.

In Memphis, Tennessee, Scott had just come home from work when his pager started beeping, indicating that the United States Geological Survey had just reported a significant earthquake. One of Scott’s first tasks in his job at the University of Memphis seismological laboratory had been to develop a computerdriven telephone pager system to notify his colleagues automatically when scientifically interesting earthquakes occur. in this case, the pager display indicated that the earthquake had a magnitude of about 6.0 and had occurred in Texas. “Better call Cliff in Texas,” thought Scott, “and warn him before the fun begins.” Scott and I have been close friends ever since Scott was a graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin, researching earthquakes under my mentorship.

However, when Scott called he spoke to my wife, who told him I wasn’t home. “Thursday is Cliff’s league bowling night,” she said. “I’ll tell him you called when he comes home.”

A few minutes later, my wife got a second telephone call, this one from Walt Maciborski of tv station Channel 24 in Austin. “There’s just been a big earthquake in West Texas,” he told her, “and we need to speak to the University of Texas seismologist to find out what he saw on the university’s seismograph. We’d like to interview him live on tonight’s ten o’clock news.”

“Cliff isn’t here,” she said, “and he doesn’t know what’s on the seismograph. This is his bowling night, and he should be back in about an hour.”

“He’s bowling?” said Maciborski. “You mean there was no one watching the seismograph when the earthquake happened?”

No. and since the University of Texas doesn’t have a pager system, when a major earthquake occurs often the first that we hear of it is from the tv stations when they call us asking for information. This earthquake had taken place in Alpine, Texas, about 500 km from Austin, and no one in my bowling league felt it. I wish I could tell you that we were bowling when suddenly bowlers on all forty lanes got a strike at the same time. But it didn’t happen that way.

When I got home I called Maciborski, and we arranged to meet at the University of Texas geophysics laboratory for the interview. I then rushed out to the lab and got on the Internet to find out everything I could about the earthquake.

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