Notable Earthquakes Shake Texas on Occasion
Texas has experienced more than 100 earthquakes of magnitude 3 or greater since 1847. However, because the density of both seismographs and people has been very low in Texas, knowledge of the state’s seismicity is undoubtedly incomplete.
The largest known earthquake in Texas occurred on Aug. 16, 1931, near the town of Valentine in Jeff Davis County. The total felt area exceeded one million square kilometers (about 400,000 square miles).
Ten earthquakes had epicenters near El Paso. Several of these shocks have produced minor damage. One earthquake on March 7, 1923, caused an adobe house to collapse and led to the suffocation of a man in Juarez, Mex. This is the only known death caused by a Texas earthquake. Seismic activity in this area of Texas may be related to known faults that have been interpreted as part of the Rio Grande rift zone, a zone of crustal extension.
Notable earthquakes in the Texas Panhandle are probably associated with an ancient zone of crustal weakness that has been reactivated in recent times. Although the largest known earthquakes in the Panhandle have not exceeded magnitude 5.4, the potential for very large earthquakes remains uncertain.
Historic earthquakes in East and Central Texas include the 1847 Seguin, 1873 Manor, 1887 Paige, 1902 Creedmoor, 1932 Mexia-Wortham and the 1934 quake near Paris. These earthquakes were all fairly small and probably occurred as a result of sediment loading and resulting flexure in the Gulf of Mexico.
Earthquakes also have been located in Southeast Texas. The 1887 Wellborn, 1910 Hempstead and 1914 Anderson shocks may have been related to salt dome growth or minor adjustments from sediment loading in the Gulf. The 1891 Rusk and the 1981 Center and Jacksonville earthquakes in Northeast Texas were all located on or near an 80-kilometer segment of the Mount Enterprise fault system.
Fluid withdrawal is usually associated with aseismic subsidence and faulting such as occurs in the Houston area. However, small earthquakes are sometimes reported. In 1925, small shocks were associated with subsidence produced from oil production at the Goose Creek old field near Houston.
Larger earthquakes in East Texas also may have resulted from fluid withdrawal. Tentative relations between withdrawal and seismicity have been proposed for the 1932 Mexia-Wortham and the 1957 Gladewater earthquakes. More convincing evidence exists for the earthquakes in some oil and gas fields in South Texas.
The injection of fluids into the earth’s crust for disposal or for secondary recovery of oil also has been known to produce earthquakes in other states. Some earthquakes, none very damaging, may be associated with fluid injection in the Permian Basin of West Texas.
An account of Texas’ seismicity would not be complete without considering the effects of earthquakes from neighboring regions. Popular legend holds that the New Madrid, Mo., earthquakes of 1811-1812 were responsible for the formation of Caddo Lake. However, there exist accounts of the lake’s existence as a swampy area as early as 1722. Whether the shocks deepened the lake is not known. In any case, it is likely that moderately high intensities of shock waves were experienced in Northeast Texas.
The Sonora, Mexico, earthquake of 1887 cracked several buildings in El Paso and caused a general panic in the population of that city. Seismic surface waves from the Alaskan earthquake of 1964 damaged a water well in the Texas Panhandle and produced waves, which damaged several boats in channels along the Gulf Coast
This adapted article was prepared for the Texas Almanac 1986-1987 by Dr. Wayne D. Pennington and Scott D. Davis, both of the Institute of Geophysics of the University of Texas at Austin.
Significant Earthquakes in Texas
Listed chronologically are the significant earthquakes in Texas (above 3.0), followed by the magnitude (commonly called the Richter scale) and known details about each earthquake.
1811 (8.1) — The first of this series of earthquakes at New Madrid, Mo., occurred on Dec. 16, 1811, magnitude 8.1. The second occurred on Jan. 12, 1812, with a magnitude of 7.8, and the third occurred on Feb. 7, 1812, with a magnitude of 8.0. All three were felt over an area of 5,000,000 square kilometers and were probably felt in Texas, but no verifiable accounts are known.
1847 (3.6) — The Feb. 14, 1847, earthquake was centered near Seguin. Newspapers reported cracked timber in houses at Seguin and New Braunfels.
1873 (3.1) — The May 1, 1873, earthquake was at Manor near Austin.
1882 (5.6) — The Oct. 22, 1882, earthquake felt in Texas, was probably centered in Oklahoma or Arkansas; the total felt area covered about 375,000 square kilometers. At Sherman heavy machinery vibrated, bricks were thrown from chimneys, and movable objects overturned.
1887 (4.1) — The Jan. 5, 1887, earthquake was at Paige in Bastrop County. The felt area was 4,600 square kilometers.
1887 (3.3) — The Jan. 31, 1887, earthquake was at Wellborn near College Station.
1887 (7.4) — A May 3, 1887, earthquake in Sonora, Mex., was felt strongly in West Texas, including El Paso and Fort Davis.
1891 (4.0) — On Jan. 8, 1891, violent shaking of buildings and a few toppled chimneys were reported from Rusk. These effects were evaluated as intensity VI, although other towns in East Texas along a northeast-southwest line through Rusk experienced tornadoes and sudden, violent wind storms producing effects similar to, and in some cases more damaging than, those in Rusk.
1902 (3.9) — The Oct. 9, 1902, earthquake was near Creedmoor, south of Austin. The felt area was 5,600 square kilometers.
1907 (3.6) — In April 1907, an earthquake near Amarillo occurred. Newspapers reported a window broken.
1910 (3.8) — The May 8, 1910, earthquake was at Hempstead. The felt area was 2,900 square kilometers.
1914 (3.3) — The Dec. 30, 1914, earthquake was at Anderson.
1917 (3.9) — A locally damaging earthquake occurred at Panhandle on March 28, 1917. Some cracked plaster was reported and children were evacuated from a school building.
1923 (4.7) — An earthquake on March 7, 1923, caused an adobe house to collapse and led to the suffocation of a man in Juarez, Mex., a few miles from the Texas border. This is the only known death caused by a Texas earthquake.
1925 (5.4) — Another disturbance occurred at Panhandle on July 30, 1925. There were three distinct shocks over a period of 15 seconds. Major problems were the shaking of dishes on shelves and rattling and creaking of furniture. The shocks were felt over an area of approximately 518,000 square kilometers including Roswell, N.M., Tulsa, Okla., and Leavenworth, Kan.
1931 (6.0) — This West Texas earthquake heavily damaged buildings in Valentine. The first shock occurred at 5:40 a.m. on Aug. 16. Although people were panic stricken, there were no fatalities and only a few minor injuries from falling adobe. Even though Valentine bore the brunt of the shock, damage was reported from widely scattered points in Brewster, Culberson, Jeff Davis and Presidio counties. Cracked walls and damaged chimneys were reported from several towns. The total felt area covered about 1,000,000 square kilometers in Texas, New Mexico and Mexico. The earthquake was accompanied by rumbling subterranean sounds heard over practically the entire affected area. The shock was strongly recorded on all seismographs in North America and at stations all over the world. Numerous aftershocks were felt in the epicentral region; the strongest, on Aug. 18, was magnitude 4.2 at Alpine, Lobo, Pecos and Valentine. A minor aftershock was felt at Valentine on Nov. 3.
1932 (4.0) — Slight damage resulted from an earthquake in the Mexia-Wortham area on April 9, 1932. Loose bricks were thrown down and some plaster cracked. The shock was also felt in Coolidge, Currie, Groesbeck, Hillsboro, Teague and Richland.
1934 (4.2) — A moderate earthquake affected an area of about 7,700 square kilometers in northeastern Texas near Paris and an adjoining portion of Oklahoma on April 11, 1934. The tremor was most distinctly felt at Arthur City, Chicota and Powderly. Many persons who felt the shock reported having heard a roaring or rumbling noise. Two shocks were recognized by many observers.
1936 (5.0) — Widely felt earthquake shocks with an epicenter in the Panhandle near Borger occurred June 19, 1936. Effects were noted at Gruver, White Deer and outside Borger.
1948 (5.2) — On March 11, 1948, a shock in the northern Panhandle near Dalhart caused minor damage, consisting mainly of cracked plaster. The effects were reported from Amarillo, Channing, Dalhart, Panhandle and Perryton.
1951 (4.2) — The Panhandle area was the center for another moderate shock on June 20, 1951. Damage to plaster occurred at Amarillo and Hereford. The felt region extended from Lubbock to Borger.
1952 (5.5) — This earthquake in central Oklahoma near El Reno on April 9, 1952, caused furniture to sway in North Texas and was felt as far south as Austin.
1957 (4.7) — Four shocks over six hours affected an area of about 26,000 square kilometers in bordering portions of Arkansas and Louisiana on March 19, 1957. Press reports noted that a few objects were upset and at least one or two windows were broken. Newspaper office and police station switchboards were swamped with called from alarmed residents. Effects were felt in Gladewater, Diana, Elkhart, Marshall, Nacogdoches and Troup.
1964 (4.4) — A series of moderate earthquakes in the Texas-Louisiana border region near Hemphill started on April 23, 1964. Epicenters were determined on April 23, 24, 27 and 28. There were numerous additional shocks reported felt at Pineland, Hemphill and Milam. The only damage reported was from the magnitude 4.4 earthquake on April 28 — wall paper and plaster cracked at Hemphill. The magnitude of the other epicenters changed from 3.2 to 3.7. Shocks were also felt at Pineland on April 30 and May 7. On June 2, three more shocks were reported in the same area. The strongest was measured at magnitude 4.2. Another moderate earthquake on Aug. 16 awakened several people at Hemphill and there were some reports of cracked plaster. The shock was also felt at Bronson, Geneva, Milam and Pineland.
1966 (4.1) — The Texas Panhandle region experienced another tremor on July 20, 1966. The earthquake knocked books from a shelf in one home and was felt by nearly all in Borger. Effects were felt Amarillo.
1966 (3.4) — Several street signs were knocked down and windows were broken at Kermit on Aug. 14, 1966. The shock was also felt at Wink.
1969 (3.9) — Four small earthquakes occurred near El Paso on May 12, 1969. One house in El Paso had hairline cracks in the ceiling and cracks in the cement driveway.
1974 (4.5) — On Feb. 15, 1974, an earthquake in the Texas Panhandle caused plaster cracks at Perryton, Booker, Darrouzett and Texhoma.
1978 (4.6) — An earthquake occurred on June 16, 1978 centered near Synder. Windows broke at Snyder, Fluvanna and Peacock, and cracked plaster was reported at Justiceburg.
1981 (3.2) — On June 9, 1981, an earthquake at Center, near the border with Louisiana.
1981 (3.3) — On Nov. 6, 1981, an earthqake at Jacksonville. The felt area of 800 square kilometers.
1992 (4.6) — An earthquake centered in Andrews County occurred on Jan. 2, 1992. Although felt over a wide area, 440,000 square kilometers, only minor damage was reported.
1993 (4.3) — An earthquake centered in Atascosa County occurred on April 9, shaking a home from its foundation in Campellton and forcing a natural-gas processing plant to shut down.
1995 (5.7) — An earthquake occurred on April 14, 1995, in Brewster County near Marathon. There were broken water mains, cracked walls and windows and broken dishes. Broken gas mains resulted in several small fires. Landslides were reported, most notably from the peak of Cathedral Mountain.
1997 (3.8) — In March, in Jim Wells County.
2008 (3.7) — On April 7, near Falls City.
2008-2009 (3.3) — A series of small earthquakes occurred in Tarrant and Dallas counties near DFW Airport, the largest of which was 3.3.
2010 (4.0) — On April 24 an earthquake occurred 13 miles east of Alice near Agua Dulce.
2010 (4.3) — On October 13 an earthquake centered about six miles east of Norman, Okla., shook at 9:06 a.m. The temblor was felt all across Oklahoma, north into Kansas, and into North Texas.
2011 (4.4) — Sept. 11, a short-lived quake hit 11 miles north-northeast of Snyder at 7:27 a.m., rattling shutters and items on tables.
2011 (4.8) — On Oct. 20, a quake centered at Fashing in Atascosa County struck at 7:24 a.m., rattling windows and sending tremors that could be felt throughout Central and South Texas.
2011 (5.6) — On Nov. 5 an earthquake between Oklahoma City and Tulsa shook at 10:53 p.m. Tremors were felt into North Texas.
2011 (3.2) — Dec. 17, an earthquake centered about 5 miles north-northeast of Snyder occurred at 8:47 a.m. Scores of people said they felt the quake, but no damage was reported. It was the third quake in the area in less than a month. On Nov. 24, a 3.0 magnitude quake was centered 17 miles north-northeast of Synder, and on Dec. 9 a 3.4 magnitude quake was centered 15 miles north of Snyder.
2012 (3.2) — Jan. 18, an earthquake near Godley in Johnson County occurred at 4:30 p.m., causing no damage or injuries.
2012 (3.6) — Jan. 24, at 12:21 p.m., 17 miles southeast of Alpine near Big Bend National Park. No damage was reported.
2012–2013 (4.8) — Shelby County. On May 17, at 3:12 a.m. an earthquake near Timpson in East Texas injured one person and broke some windows. It was the second and largest quake in the area within several weeks, and was felt as far away as Longview and Shreveport. On May 10, at 10:15 a.m., a 3.9 magnitude quake occurred. No significant damage was reported. A third 2.7 tremor followed on May 20, a fourth 2.5 tremor occurred in the same area at 1:30 a.m. on May 26, and a fifth 2.1 tremor occurred on June 16. Again, on Dec. 7 a 2.8 magnitude quake occurred in the same area. On Jan. 25, at 1:01 a.m., a 4.1 magnitude quake occurred in the area. On Jan. 29, at 6:30 a.m. a 2.8 magnitude earthquake occurred just south of Timpson. No damages were reported. On Sept. 1 at 4:52 p.m., a 4.1 magnitude earthquake occurred 2 miles west-northwest of Timpson. Two hours later, a second 4.3 magnitude quake struck nearby. Little damaged was reported.
2012–2013 (3.6) — Johnson County. On June 24 at 12:46 p.m. a 3.6 magnitude earthquake occurred near Keene in North Texas. The quake caused some household items to be knocked over and a few windows to break. It was the largest in a series of quakes within several weeks in the county. On June 4 there was a 2.3 tremor near Cleburne, on June 15 at 2 a.m. there was a 3.2 magnitude earthquake near Burleson, on June 26 there was a 2.6 magnitude quake at Alvarado, on July 6 there was a 2.7 magnitude quake near Keene, on July 10 there was a 2.4 magnitude quake southwest of Keene, and on July 13 there was a 2.7 magnitude quake near Godley. No damage or injures were reported. On Dec. 12, a 2.6 magnitude tremor occurred 2 miles east of Burleson and was felt in Tarrant and Johnson counties. On Feb. 25, 2013. a 2.7 magnitude earthquake was reported at 3:07 p.m. near Midlothian. On March 10, another 2.7 magnitude earthquake occurred at 8:47 a.m. near Godley. No damage was reported.
2012 (3.4) — McMullen County. On June 24, a 3.4 magnitude earthquake occurred at 3:55 a.m. near Tilden in South Texas. No damage was reported.
2012–2013 (3.4) — Dallas County. Sept. 29, a 3.4 magnitude earthquake occurred at 11:05 p.m. 2 miles north of Irving. It was followed within minutes by a second quake of 3.1 magnitude, in the same area. The quakes caused some cracks in walls and ceilings, but there was no major damage reported. Another of 2.1 magnitude followed one day later. In the same area, a 3.0 magnitude earthquake occurred the following Jan. 22. On Feb. 25, a 2.5 magnitude earthquake occurred at 6:56 a.m. south of DeSoto. In the same area, just south of there in Ellis County, a 2.4 magnitude earthquake occurred on that same date at 4:35 a.m. No damage was reported. Another 2.4 magnitude quake occurred in that part of northern Ellis County on Oct. 15. No damage was reported.
2013–2014 (3.7) — North Texas. More than two dozen earthquakes occurred in northeast Parker County and across the county line in Wise, Tarrant and Dallas counties beginning in November 2013, the strongest being on Dec. 9 northeast of Mineral Wells, registering 3.7 magnitude. Another, on Nov. 19 near Azle, registered 3.6. It occurred at 6:35 p.m. and followed two tremors earlier that day around noon, the first was a magnitude 2.5 south-southwest of Reno. Six minutes later, a 2.8 magnitude earthquake was recorded two miles west of Azle. The first of the November quakes occurred Nov. 1 near Richland Hills in Tarrant County, registering 2.1 magnitude. On Nov. 5, a 2.6 magnitude earthquake occurred at 8:30 p.m. near Reno in the northeast corner of Parker County, followed by an aftershock. Minutes later a 2.3 magnitude quake happened within 20 miles near Newark in the southeast corner of Wise County. Then, on Nov. 6, a 2.7 magnitude earthquake occurred in the morning southeast of Springtown, followed the next day by a 2.9 magnitude earthquake in the same area at 10:32 p.m. On Nov. 8, a 2.4 magnitude earthquake a mile northwest of Azle occurred. Again on Nov. 9, a 3.0 magnitude earthquake occurred near Springtown. Nov. 11, a 2.8 tremor occurred west of Briar. Nov. 23, a 2.9 magnitude earthquake occurred two miles southwest of Reno at 3:43 a.m. On Nov. 25, a 3.3 magnitude earthquake occurred near Azle at 1:53 a.m. On Dec. 3, a 2.7 magnitude earthquake occurred at 9:44 a.m a mile east-southeast of Reno. On Dec. 8, a 3.6 magnitude earthquake occurred north of Azle. On Dec. 10, a 2.7 magnitude earthquake occurred east of Azle. On Dec. 14, a 2.8 magnitude earthquake occurred southwest of Springtown. On Jan. 13, a 3.1 magnitude earthquake occurred at Reno. On Jan. 28, a 3.0 magnitude earthquake occurred three miles northwest of Azle. On Feb. 2, a 2.3 magnitude earthquake occurred between Benbrook and Crowley. On Sept. 7, 2014, a 2.4 magnitude quake occurred near Arlington. A few days later on Sept. 11 a 2.9 magnitude earthquake occurred north of Irving. No major damage was reported in any of the earthquakes.
2013 (2.6) — Grayson County. A 2.6 magnitude earthquake occurred northeast of Whitesboro on Dec. 13, one day after another 2.6 magnitude earthquake occurred southeast of Pottsboro. A 2.5 magnitude earthquake occurred southwest of Pottsboro on Dec. 11. No major damage was reported in any of the earthquakes.
2014 (3.5) — Oldham County. A 3.5 magnitude earthquake occurred 14 miles west of Vega on Jan. 6. about 2:41 a.m. No major damage was reported
Sources: Principally, the U.S. Geological Survey and the Institute for Geophysics at the University of Texas at Austin. Also, previous Texas Almanacs.