Virginia's Largest Earthquakes
2011. Aug. 23. Louisa County, central Virginia.
The epicenter of Virginia's largest earthquake was 13 km south-southwest of Mineral, Virginia, in the central Virginia seismic zone. The shock is known as the Mineral earthquake. The moment magnitude was Mw 5.7, mbLg magnitude 6.3. The earthquake was felt throughout much of the eastern United States and southeastern Canada, possibly by more people than any other earthquake in U.S. history. It was the largest and most damaging earthquake in the eastern United States since the 1886 Charleston, South Carolina earthquake. Damage in the epicentral area represents Modified Mercalli intensity VIII, with many instances of broken and collapsed masonry walls and chimneys, as well as shifting of structures on their foundations. Significant damage occurred to structures at distances in excess of 130 km to the northeast in the Washington DC area. The rupture process was a complex reverse fault event, initiating at a depth of 8 km. The mainshock was followed by a prolific aftershock sequence that is still underway (August, 2014).
Chapman, M.C., (2013). On the Rupture Process of the 23 August 2011 Virginia Earthquake, Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America, 103, 613-628.
Chapman, M.C., (2015) Magnitude, Recurrence Interval and Near-Source Ground Motion Modeling of the Mineral, Virginia Earthquake of August 23, 2011, in Horton, J.W., Jr., Chapman, M.C., and Green, R.A., eds., The 2011 Mineral, Virginia, Earthquake, and Its Significance for Seismic Hazards in Eastern North America: Geological Society of America Special Paper 509, doi:10.1130/2015.2509(21) (in press).
Horton, J.W., Jr., Chapman, M.C., and Green, R.A., (2015), The 2011 Mineral, Virginia,earthquake, and its significance for seismic hazards in eastern North America—Overview and synthesis, in Horton, J.W., Jr., Chapman, M.C., and Green, R.A., eds., The 2011 Mineral, Virginia, Earthquake, and Its Significance for Seismic Hazards in Eastern North America: Geological Society of America Special Paper 509, doi:10.1130/2015.2509(21) (in press).
The following is taken from SEISMICITY OF THE UNITED
STATES, 1568-1989 (REVISED)
by Carl W. Stover and Jerry L. Coffman
(USGS Professional Paper 1527, 1993,
1774. Feb. 21. Near Petersburg, Prince
George County, Va. A sharp earthquake
that was felt over much of Virginia displaced houses "considerably
off their foundations" at Blandford and Petersburg. Although
the shock was severe at Richmond and terrified residents about
80 km north of Richmond at Fredericksburg, it caused no damage
at those towns. Several "smart shocks" were reported
in parts of Virginia from Feb. 20th to the 22nd. The main tremor
rang bells at Salem (now Winston-Salem), N.C. Magnitude 4.5 Mfa
NUT. (Ref. 55, 167, 314.)
1833. Aug. 27. Central Virginia.
A rather strong shock agitated walls of buildings at Lynchburg
(west of Richmond, in southern Amherst County) and rattled windows
violently. Fences along the road were shaken near the Louisa
County Courthouse, northwest of Richmond. It was described as
"severe" at Charlottesville, about 85 km northeast of
Lynchburg. Two miners were killed in a panic caused by the tremor
at a mine near Richmond. Ref. 179 suggests a MM intensity VI
at the epicenter, although no damage was documented. Also felt
in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and North Carolina. Magnitude
NUT. (Ref. 38, 167, 179.)
1852. Apr. 29. Near Wytheville, Wythe
County, Va. A severe earthquake that was observed over a
large area threw down a chimney near Wytheville, in southwest
Virginia, and shook down tops of chimneys at Buckingham Courthouse,
about 55 km south of Charlottesville. Houses were shaken violently
at Staunton, about 65 km west of Charlottesville. A brick was
shaken from a chimney as far south as Davie County, N.C. Also
felt in the District of Columbia, Maryland, New York, Ohio, and
Pennsylvania. Magnitude 4.9 Mfa
NUT. (Ref. 38, 55, 86, 167, 508.)
1852. Nov. 2. Central Virginia. Chimney
damage occurred at Buckingham, about 55 km south of Charlottesville.
This earthquake was reported to be "quite strong" at
Fredericksburg, Richmond, and Scottsville. At Scottsville, where
every house in the village was shaken, water in the canal was
"troubled," and boats were tossed to and fro. Magnitude
NUT. (Ref. 55, 167.)
1875. Dec. 23 (Dec. 22). Central Virginia.
The highest intensities from this earthquake occurred mainly
at towns near the James River waterfront in Goochland and Powhatan
Counties, and in Louisa County. In Richmond (Henrico County),
the most severe damage was sustained in the downtown business
and residential areas adjacent to the James River or on islands
in the river. Damage included bricks knocked from chimneys, fallen
plaster, an overturned stove, and several broken windows. Waves
"suddenly rose several feet" at the James River dock
at Richmond, causing boats to "part their cables" and
drift below the wharf. At Manakin, about 20 km west of Richmond,
shingles were shaken from a roof and many lamps and chimneys were
broken. Several small aftershocks were reported through Jan.
2, 1876. Felt from Baltimore, Md., to Greensboro, N.C., and from
the Atlantic Coast westward to Greenbrier and White Sulphur Springs,
W.Va. Magnitude 4.5 Mfa
NUT. (Ref 55, 167, 365.)
1897. May 3. Southwest Virginia. This
earthquake was most severe at Radford (about 65 km west of Roanoke),
where a few chimneys were wrecked and plaster fell from walls.
Chimneys were damaged at nearby Pulaski and at Roanoke. Felt
in most of southwest Virginia and as far south as Winston-Salem,
N.C. Magnitude 4.3 Mfa
NUT. (Ref. 38, 55, 167, 272, 508.)
1897. May 31. Giles County, Va. This
earthquake was the largest in intensity and areal extent in Virginia
in historical times, [until the occurence of the August 23, 2011 Mineral, Virginia earthquake]. The earthquake had a maximum Modified Mercalli Intensity
of VIII, and the area of maximum ground motion extended over an
elliptical area-from near Lynchburg, Va., west to Bluefield, W.Va.,
and from Giles County south to Bristol, Tenn.
The MM intensity VIII assigned to this earthquake is based on
"many downed chimneys" and "changes in the flow
The shock was felt severely at Narrows, about
3 km west of Pearisburg. Here, the surface rolled in an undulating
motion, water in springs became muddy, and water in some springs
ceased to flow. The flow of water in springs also was disturbed
in the area of Pearisburg, about 70 km west of Roanoke, and Sugar
The shock was strong at Pearisburg, where
walls of old brick houses were cracked and many chimneys were
thrown down or badly damaged. Many chimneys also were shaken
down at Bedford, Pulaski, Radford, and Roanoke, Va., and Bristol,
Tenn.; many chimneys were damaged at Christiansburg, Dublin, Floyd,
Houston, Lexington, Lynchburg, Rocky Mount, Salem, Tazewell, and
Wytheville, Va.; Charlotte, Oxford, Raleigh, and Winston, N.C.;
Knoxville, Tenn.; and Bluefield, W.Va. Felt from Georgia to Pennsylvania
and from the Atlantic Coast westward to Indiana and Kentucky.
Aftershocks continued through June 6, 1897. Magnitude 5.8 Mfa
NUT. (Ref. 55, 167, 190, 525.)
1898. Feb. 5. Pulaski, Va. Bricks
were thrown from chimneys, furniture was shifted in a few houses,
and residents rushed into the streets at Pulaski, about 70 km
southwest of Roanoke. Felt throughout southwest Virginia and
south to Raleigh, N.C. (Ref. 38, 86, 167, 508.)
1907. Feb. 11. Near Arvonia, Buckingham
County, Va. Chimneys were cracked at Ashby, about 20 km southeast
of Arvonia, and a window was broken at a store at Buckingham,
25 km southwest of Arvonia. A "terrific" shock sent
people rushing outdoors at Arvonia and displaced furniture. Felt
strongly from Powhatan to Albemarle County. (Ref. 55, 167, 189.)
1918. Apr. 10 (Apr. 9). Luray, Page County,
Va. In the Shenandoah Valley, at Luray, windows were broken
and plaster was cracked severely. Ceilings of houses were cracked
badly a few kilometers north of Luray, at Edinburg; windows were
broken at Harrisonburg and Staunton, Va., and Washington, D.C.
(at Georgetown University). In addition, a new spring formed
in Page County, near Hamburg, almost in the middle of a road.
A minor aftershock was reported in the area about 5 hours later.
Also felt in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. (Ref.
38, 55, 186, 189, 272.)
1919. Sept. 6 (Sept. 5). Near Front Royal,
Warren County, Va. This earthquake affected towns mainly
in Warren and Rappahannock Counties. At Arco, in the Blue Ridge
Mountains south of Front Royal, chimneys were damaged, plaster
fell from walls, and springs and streams were muddied. Reports
from the adjacent northern part of Rappahannock County state that
similar shocks were felt and that streams were "rendered
turbid." Also felt in parts of Maryland and West Virginia.
Several aftershocks occurred. (Ref. 55, 187, 272.)
1929. Dec. 26 (Dec. 25). Charlottesville,
Albemarle County, Va. A moderate tremor at Charlottesville
shook bricks from chimneys in some places. Also felt in other
parts of Albemarle County. (Ref. 38, 189.)
1959. Apr. 23. Giles County, Va.
The earthquake was strongest in Giles County, at Eggleston and
Pembroke. Residents there reported several damaged chimneys and
articles shaken from shelves and walls. One chimney toppled at
the Norfolk and Western Station in Eggleston. Also felt in West
Virginia. Magnitude 3.8 Mfa
DG. (Ref. 105, 349, 508.)
1975. Nov. 11. Southwest Virginia.
Windows were broken in the Blacksburg area of Montgomery
County, and plaster was cracked at Poplar
Hill (south of Pearisburg, in Giles County). Also felt in Pulaski
County. (Ref. 48, 349.)
1976. Sept. 13. Southwest Virginia.
Bricks fell from chimneys and pictures fell from walls in Surry
County at Mount Airy, N.C. At the nearby town of Toast, N.C.,
cracks formed in masonry and plaster. The earthquake was observed
in many towns in North Carolina and Virginia and in a few towns
in South Carolina and West Virginia. (Ref 49, 349.)