Alabama

Earthquake History

The known seismic history of Alabama spans about 100 years for local earthquakes. For shocks outside the State borders that caused damaged to cities in Alabama, the history can be traced to 1811 - 1812, when three great (estimated magnitude 8 or greater on the Richter scale) earthquakes centered in Missouri may have reached intensity VII in the northern and/or central sections. These gigantic earthquakes were comparable to the San Francisco shock in 1906 and were felt over 2 million square miles, more than half of the total area of the United States.

Historical records indicate the first earthquake of consequence in Alabama shook residents of Sumter and Marengo Counties, located in the western part of the State, on February 4, 1886. A similar shock occurred nine days later, on February 13. Both were reported felt at communities along the Tombigee River, but caused no damage. Only six months later, the destructive Charleston, South Carolina, shock that was felt in cities all over the Eastern United States occurred. This shock, located about 400 miles east of Alabama's border, caused minor damage in the northeastern part of the State.

In 1916 on October 18, a strong earthquake occurred on an unnamed fault east of Birmingham. It was apparently most strong at Easonville. Near the epicenter, chimneys were knocked down, windows broken, and frame buildings "badly shaken." It was noted by residents in seven States and covered 100,000 square miles.

Another tremor that damaged the Birmingham area occurred on April 23, 1957. Centered near the Tennessee River below Guntersville Dam, the earthquake shook residents in southern Tennessee, western Georgia, and most of northern and central Alabama. Earthquake records for that year state: "Felt by, awakened, and alarmed many. Minor damage to several chimneys; one report of cement steps cracked in two; and several small cracks in walls. Table-top items tumbled to the floor."

A shock centered in the Huntsville area on August 12, 1959. Though felt over a small area of southern Tennessee and northern Alabama, it shook bricks from chimneys at Hazel Green; damaged one chimney and a newly constructed concrete block building at Meridianville; shook violently the buildings at New Sharon, knocking canned goods from shelves and sending frightened residents fleeing from their homes; and cracked plaster and knocked groceries from shelves at Huntsville.

Additional earthquakes (intensity V category) listed for this State that were minor and caused no damage centered near Rosemary, western Alabama, in June 1917; in the Scottsboro area northeast of Huntsville in June 1927; at Cullman, northern Alabama, in May 1931; and in the Anniston area in May 1939.

A strong earthquake in southern Illinois in November 1968 caused intensity V effects in several localities in northern Alabama. The shock was the strongest in Illinois since 1895, and was felt over a half-million square miles in 23 States.

[The above history was abridged from Earthquake Information Bulletin, Volume 2, Number 1, January-February 1970.]

1975 Aug 29 04:22 4.4M Intensity VI
Palmerdale, Alabama ( 33.659N 86.5880W )
The earthquake cracked a sheetrock ceiling and shifted lamps on tables at Palmerdale, north of Birmingham. It caused slight damage at Watson, where furniture was displaced slightly. Also felt in southern Tennessee.

1989 Aug 20 00:03 3.9M Intensity VI
Near Littleville, Alabama ( 34.736N 87.6450W )
A Colbert County official reported that, south of Florence between Littleville and Russellville, a basement wall collapsed beneath a house. Only slight damage was reported north of the epicenter at Florence, where windows were cracked and hairline cracks formed in plaster. Also felt in Lauderdale, Lawrence, and Morgan Counties in northwest Alabama and Lawrence County in south-central Tennessee.

1997 Oct 24 08:35 4.9M Intensity VI
Near Brewton, Alabama ( 31.118N 87.3390W )
Felt (VI) at Brewton, Canoe and Lambeth; (V) at Atmore, Flomaton, Frisco City and Huxford; (IV) at Perdido and Robinsonville; (III) at Butler, Demopolis, Goodway, Mobile and Uriah. Felt (V) at Century; (IV) at McDavid, Pensacola and Walnut Hill; (III) at Milton, Florida. Felt (IV) at Leakesville, Mississippi. Also felt at Megargel; Elgin AFB, Florida; Biloxi and Gulfport, Mississippi.

1999 Jan 18 07:00 4.0M
Alabama ( 33.405N 87.2550W )
Mine collapse.

[The above summaries were abridged from Seismicity of the United States, 1568-1989 (Revised), by Carl W. Stover and Jerry L. Coffman, U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1527, United States Government Printing Office, Washington: 1993 and from Preliminary Determinations of Epicenters Monthly Listing.]

For a list of earthquakes that have occurred since this article was written, use the Earthquake Search.