Earthquake felt from D.C. to Chicago

August 23, 2011

By Associated Press and City Room

(Museum of Earth/R. Kissel)
The Museum of the Earth's Leon Apgar explains the Virginia earthquake to visitors as it happens!

A 5.9 magnitude earthquake centered northwest of Richmond, Va., shook much of Washington, D.C., and was felt as far north as Ottawa, Ontario and New York City.

The shaking was felt as far north as the Martha's Vineyard, Mass., golf course where President Barack Obama was just starting a round.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the earthquake, which struck at 12:51 p.m., was half-a-mile deep and was centered near Louisa, Va. Shaking was felt at the White House and all over the East Coast, as far south as Chapel Hill, N.C. Parts of the Pentagon, White House, Capitol and NPR headquarters were evacuated. The quake was in Mineral, Va., in Louisa County. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

The East Coast gets earthquakes, but usually smaller ones and is less prepared than California or Alaska for shaking. At Reagan National Airport outside Washington, ceiling tiles fell during a few seconds of shaking. Authorities announced it was an earthquake and all flights were put on hold.

In New York City public radio station WNYC was also evacuated from their offices.

In Chicago many people have reported feeling tremors, though there are no official reports from seismologists. "Last time we felt a distant quake, seismologists told us that bedrock in the eastern U.S. is very stiff, therefore even far-off earthquakes can propagate to the Midwest," said Gabriel Spitzer, WBEZ's resident science expert.

In Evanston, Northwestern University's Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences reported a "large bump" on their seismic station around the time of the earthquake.

Professor Suzan van der Lee explained that Navy Pier is an ideal place to feel a tremor like this, due to its supporting pylons being buried in bedrock and amplifying the vibrations, like an inverse pendulum.


And the tremor rattled the Tevatron particle collider out at Fermilab in the Western Suburbs.

A spokeswoman there says sensitive instruments on the collider’s supercooled magnets detected the Washington, DC quake, as well as one earlier this morning in Colorado. 

If you felt the quake, please leave a comment with your location.