Posted by: reformedmusings | August 23, 2011

Virginia 5.8 Earthquake First-hand

Wow, did we have some fun today. I was sitting on the 10th floor talking about a program with a colleague. The building started to shake/vibrate lightly like a large truck drove by. Then the amplitude increased a bit and I thought that perhaps it was an explosion – 9/11 anniversary came to mind. After some seconds, my colleague looked at me inquisitively and said/asked “Earthquake?” About that point the vibration/rumbling stabilized for a few seconds. I nodded affirmatively.

We thought it might be over, but then it hit a lot harder, this time as shaking. It quickly built to the point where stuff started falling out of his bookcase. The water down in the pool next to the building developed waves. I started thinking that the 10th floor wasn’t a good place to be right then. Just when I thought the next step would be cracking walls as the building’s sway became quite pronounced, the shaking finally tapered off slowly. Total time front to back felt like a very long time, but it was less than a minute.

When all was done, we put stuff back on the shelves and started to get back to work. It was cool, but it was over and time to get busy. Really. We didn’t hear or see any cracks in the wall, so no big deal. However, the boss decided that we should leave the building. He insisted.

Once outside, we saw that all the buildings in the area were being evacuated. I saw no edifice or supporting structure cracks anywhere as I walked around the buildings, so evacuation seemed like overkill. Cell phone service was hammered by everyone in Virginia, DC, and Maryland trying to call someone. I was nearly impossible to make a cell phone call for several hours. In an emergency like an earthquake or terrorist bombing, never depend on a cell phone voice call. Text/data has a better chance.

Anyway, I was eventually able to get some data on my phone, and the news laid it out as a 6.0 earthquake about 80 miles from here. That was later downgraded to a 5.9 and eventually a 5.8. Still pretty impressive for an area that rarely even sees a 3.2. In fact, it tied the record set over 100 years ago. It was felt as far away as Toronto and Atlanta. Virtually none of the government or office buildings in the DC area was built with earthquakes in mind, but all seemed to fare pretty well here.

The most noticeable thing to me was that no one had a plan after evacuation. The police and fire trucks passed by regularly while everyone stood outside. I began to wonder what criteria would have to be met in order to let everyone back in the buildings. No one “in authority” seemed to have any idea. No one. Eventually, our building’s management allowed those who wanted to simply get some stuff and then leave to enter the building “at our own risk.” By the time I went upstairs, got my stuff, and headed down to the parking garage to leave, the full stampede of the re-entering herd had started. Still not sure what the criteria was.

Driving out of the area proved quite challenging since it turned out that somehow others stole my idea of bugging out while the bugging was supposedly good. The many hundreds milling about in the street didn’t help the commute at all. Since the Metro was limited to 15 miles per hour until the tracks could be inspected, I imagine that many had a much worse time getting home than I can imagine.

Here’s a good summary from a local weather blog. Here’s a blow-by-blow on the same blog. This is a good broader-scoped article.

Overall, today was pretty interesting. I’ve been in a 7.1 quake in California before, so I’m no stranger to quakes. However, it’s a significantly different experience on the 10th floor of a seriously swaying office building. Checked that box, don’t need to repeat it.

I did find some interesting earthquake humor tonight on the Washington Examiner site. Two of my favorites:

Evidently the quake occurred on a little known fault line outside of DC called “Bush’s Fault”.

Obama administration points out they “inherited” fault lines from previous administrations.

Personally, I blame global warming.

Stay safe and enjoy the solid, stable ground!



  1. Watching the news of the quake from down here in Florida, one gets the impression that it was nowhere near Virginia.

    “New Yorkers felt tremors…”

    “In New York today, buildings trembled…”

    No mention that the epicenter was near Richmond. But that’s the media down here. Even the Weather Channel focuses entirely on NYC. When the Tsunami hit Japan, the media focused on the impact of the disaster on NYC’s economy. It wasn’t until today that I learned that the quake wasn’t in NYC at all!

    • Yep, typical. On the way home yesterday, I talked to someone who works just outside NYC. He said that they felt the quake but it was no big deal there. It was certainly a pretty significant deal here. All damage was minor, but it’s spread around the area. Brick and plaster facades took most of the hits, with some falling stuff indoors adding to it. Some cars were crushed in Vienna by a falling brick facade (no one hurt), and a water pipe broke in the Pentagon. Culpepper, VA, had a very rough time, as did Mineral at the epicenter.

      You’re about to get a visit from your girlfriend Irene, aren’t you?

  2. […] it’s been an interesting week in NoVA. First we had the 5.8 earthquake, followed the interesting 4.5 aftershock amongst others. This didn’t produce much damage […]

  3. […] so far this year we’ve had a 5.8 magnitude earthquake, Hurricane Irene, and now an October snow storm. The record for October snow has already been tied […]

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