South Carolina had more earthquakes than normal in 2021, but experts aren’t concerned

Published: Dec. 28, 2021 at 7:16 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - South Carolina is closing out an above-average year with respect to earthquakes.

The U.S. Geological Survey confirmed four earthquakes Monday in the Midlands, centered in Elgin, bringing the state’s total in 2021 to 27 with a few days left in the year. Most of them, 17, have occurred just in the last three months.

The state typically averages up to 20 quakes annually, according to the South Carolina Emergency Management Division.

“Things are pretty random. There’s no specific reason why we’ve had a few more this year than normal,” College of Charleston Associate Professor of Geology Steven Jaume said.

But Jaume and Thomas Owens, a professor at the University of South Carolina’s School of the Ocean, Earth, and Environment and the director of the South Carolina Seismic Network, also pointed to the context in which some of these events were registered.

There were seven earthquakes in a seven-day span in the Jenkinsville area, beginning in late October — “Those swarms occur near the Monticello Reservoir every few years, so that’s not that different either,” Jaume said — and then the four Monday in Kershaw County.

Those two sequences alone account for 11 of the state’s 27 confirmed earthquakes.

“An ‘above average’ number of earthquakes does not mean ‘abnormal’ or ‘concerning,’” Owens said.

Most of South Carolina’s earthquakes this year have been in the magnitude 2 to 3 range, which Owens said is normal.

In that range, people may feel weak or light shaking, if they feel anything at all, according to the USGS.

Only two of this year’s earthquakes have been greater than magnitude 3, including the first one Monday, which registered at a 3.3.

“These were smaller quakes than the one that went into the 3s, a little more unusual. But no damage. As far as we know, everyone is safe at this time, and that’s all you can really hope for,” SCEMD Public Information Coordinator Brandon LaVorgna said.

Both LaVorgna and Jaume said they hear people’s concerns when “swarms,” or groups of earthquakes, are confirmed, wondering if these smaller earthquakes are precursors to a much greater one.

“Occasionally, we do have what we call the foreshocks. We only know this after the big one,” Jaume said. “Just having a few of them in a group does not tell you, ‘Oh, there’s a big one coming.’”

If you feel an earthquake and are inside, experts say to stay inside, then get to the ground, underneath a table or desk if possible, and stay covered until the shaking stops. People who are outside should get away from anything that could fall on them, like a tree.

“Mother Nature’s going to move when she wants to move, and we’ve just got to move with her and react,” LaVorgna said. “Part of being proactive is that emergency plan, emergency kit, knowing what to do, telling your kids what to do, showing them what to do. Just know where the safe places are in your house or outside if that’s where you’re at.”

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