South Dakota

Earthquake History

The first earthquake reported in the region occurred on October 9, 1872, 17 years before South Dakota was admitted to the Union. This shock was apparently centered near Sioux City, Iowa. Severe effects were noted at Sioux City, at Yankton and White Swan, South Dakota, and elsewhere in the Dakota Territory. Two strong tremors 45 minutes apart caused some damage in eastern Nebraska on November 15, 1877. The large felt area (over 350,000 square kilometers) included all or most of South Dakota.

On December 29, 1879, a mild earthquake produced rumbling noises at Yankton (V). Two shocks, estimated at intensity IV-V, occurred in the Black Hills region on October 11, 1895. The first was reported strongest at Rochford; the latter was strongest at Keystone and Hill City.

The earthquake of June 2, 1911, was reported from Huron (V) and other places in South Dakota, Iowa, and Nebraska, an area covering approximately 100,000 square kilometers. It was apparently centered in the James River valley. A shock on October 23, 1915, near Kadoka, was accompanied by loud noises. Some cracks in the ground were reported (V). The Black Hills region experienced another earthquake on November 16, 1928. At Custer and Rochford there was a deep rumbling sound (V).

Buildings were jarred, dishes rattled, and loose objects swayed (V) at Sioux Falls from an October 11, 1938, tremor. Police stations received more than 50 calls from alarmed residents. The total felt area affected was about 7,500 square kilometers in South Dakota and one town in Minnesota. A strong, localized shock on July 23, 1946, caused several cracks in water mains (VI) at Wessington. The earthquake, which occurred about 12:45 a.m., also awakened sleepers at Huron. The small felt area extended from Pierre to De Smet and from Wessington to Redfield. A similar disturbance occurred on December 31, 1961, causing slight damage at Pierre. Reports of cracked plaster and a cracked cement floor were received. Also, buildings shook and loose objects rattled. Newspaper and police switchboards were swamped with calls from alarmed residents (VI). Fisherman along the Missouri River reported that many fish leaped into the air at the time the earthquake occurred. The felt area extended from Midland on the west to Huron on the east.

An earthquake with an abrupt onset and a short duration (3-5 seconds) was felt by all at Wind Cave National Park. The March 24, 1964, tremor caused small rocks to fall in the cave. Buildings creaked, and a slight trembling motion was noticed at Hot Springs (V). Three days later (March 27), another shock was reported from the same area. The epicenter was apparently located near Van Tassell, Wyoming, although no instrumental records were available for this event owing to the proximity in time of its occurrence to the occurrence of the great Alaska earthquake. There was no connection between the shocks, although many persons within the felt area thought effects from the Alaskan earthquake had been observed. Maximum intensity (V) was noted at Van Tassell; felt reports were received from Harrison and Hyannis, Nebraska, and Edgemont, Hot Springs, Keystone, Pine Ridge, and Provo, South Dakota.

The strongest tremor in this series (measured at magnitude 5.1) occurred at 3:08 a.m. CST, March 28, 1964. The instrumental epicenter was near Merriman, Nebraska, where broken goods were reported in stores; also, dishes were broken in homes, and stucco under windows cracked. Sixteen kilometers south, 75 cracks were noted in the highway, and some steep banks tumbled along the river (VII). Plaster fell at Rushville, and part of a chimney toppled at Alliance, Nebraska. Slight damage also occurred in southwestern South Dakota - a retaining wall was damaged at Deadwood, there were a few slight cracks in ceiling plaster at Interior, a glass container broke in a market at Martin, and wall and ceiling plaster cracked at Pine Ridge. Several farms near Martin also reported broken glass. The total felt area, including several places in Wyoming, covered approximately 230,000 square kilometers. One town in Montana (Alzada) reported this tremor.

An earthquake on June 26, 1966, near Rapid City, caused slight damage over a small area. A patio and concrete steps were cracked at Rapid City; well water was muddied and could not be used for several hours at Keystone (VI). The magnitude 4.1 shock produced intensity V effects at Deadwood and Silver City. It was also felt at Black Hawk, Hill City, Lead, Piedmont, Pine Ridge, and Shannon.

A magnitude 4.4 shock on November 23, 1967, was felt over a small area of southern South Dakota and northern Nebraska. Press reports indicated that houses shook and dishes fell from shelves in the Winner - Rosebud - White River areas (V). Many residents were frightened at Gregory, where furniture was shifted and some windows were cracked. Livestock stampeded through fences on some farms. Felt reports were also received from Carter, Chamberlain, Colome, Martin, Mission, and Stephan, South Dakota, and Ainsworth and Dunning Nebraska. One isolated report stated the shock was felt by a few people at Douglas, Wyoming.

Abridged from Earthquake Information Bulletin, Volume 9, Number 1, January - February 1977, by Carl A. von Hake.

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