Could recent quakes herald larger tremor? Expert: not likely

Oct. 31, 2016: UT geology professor Bob Hatcher says East Tennessee is the third most seismically active area in eastern North America.

Ten small earthquakes have shaken our area in the last week.

The most recent one was early Monday morning near Cherokee, N.C., on the other side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

UT geology professor Bob Hatcher studies earthquake activity in East Tennessee.

"You cannot predict earthquakes and when they're going to occur," Hatcher told WBIR 10News in his office Monday afternoon. "What we usually see is several precursor earthquakes, called foreshocks."

He said these recent quakes are probably not foreshocks.

"Those earthquakes are the kind that we see very frequently here in East Tennessee," Hatcher said, referring to the 10 recent quakes. "Some people feel them, some people don't even feel them at all."

Early last Tuesday morning, folks in Blount County near Louisville felt a 2.7-magnitude quake

People near Vonore felt a 2.6-magnitude quake early Sunday morning.

Eight other earthquakes happened near Cherokee, N.C. in the last week, as well, all registering 2.6 or lower on the moment magnitude scale.

Pointing to a map of earthquakes recorded over the past 240 years, Hatcher said quakes like those - and in those areas - are not uncommon.

"The earthquake activity spans from northeastern-most Alabama, across northwest Georgia, into southern Tennessee, up to the Knoxville area and it sort of turns and goes into Kentucky," he said, describing the arch of the common earthquake locations.

East Tennessee, he said, is the third most seismically active area in eastern North America, behind Quebec, Canada and - with the most - West Tennessee, in the New Madrid Seismic Zone.

The West Coast, of course, sees the most earthquakes in all of North America.

"The most earthquake activity here in East Tennessee is around Vonore (and) Maryville," Hatcher said.

The East Tennessee area, he said, hasn't seen a large quake in recorded history, though geologic evidence shows at least one 6.5-magnitude quake happened in the last 15,000 years.

"If we had a magnitude 6 to 6.5 here in East Tennessee, we would have extensive damage," he said.

The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency's director calls a major earthquake the state's "top catastrophic threat."

It and FEMA promote videos, teaching people to protect themselves in case of a major earthquake.

While earthquakes cannot be predicted and our area hasn't seen a recent large one, Hatcher isn't taking any chances.

"I do have earthquake insurance," he said with a chuckle. "I didn't used to have it, but I do now."

(© 2016 WBIR)


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