Texas has experienced many 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 (3.0 magnitude or greater), followed by the largest magnitude in the area (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. On Jan. 25, 2013, at 1:01 a.m., a 4.1 magnitude quake occurred in the area. 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 in the quakes.
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. No damage or injures were reported. 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. In the same area, a 3.0 magnitude earthquake occurred the following Jan. 22, 2013. No damage was reported.
2013–2018 (4.0) — North Texas. Scores of earthquakes occurred in Parker, Johnson, Wise, Tarrant and Dallas counties beginning in November 2013, the strongest occurring on May 7, 2015, near Venus, registering 4.0 magnitude. The second strongest occurred on Dec. 9, 2013, 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 Again on Nov. 9, a 3.0 magnitude earthquake occurred near Springtown. On Nov. 25, a 3.3 magnitude earthquake occurred near Azle at 1:53 a.m. On Dec. 8, a 3.6 magnitude earthquake occurred north of Azle.
In 2014, 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. Irving experienced eight more earthquakes in October and November, the largest measuring 3.3 magnitude. That quake occurred on Nov. 22 near the site of the old Texas Stadium. A week later on Nov. 29, a 3.4 magnitude earthquake occurred northwest of Venus in Johnson County.
On Jan.6–7, 2015, there were 11 earthquakes in the same Irving area. The strongest was measured at 3.6 magnitude and was felt in downtown Dallas. Three earthquakes occurred on April 2 in Irving. The largest was measured at 3.3 magnitude. Three earthqakes occurred on May 3-4 in the area of Dallas County. The largest was measured at 3.2 magnitude. Another earthquake measuring 3.3 occurred in the same general area on May 18. A 3.0 magnitude earthquake hit in Haslet Dec. 17.
Again in the Irving area in 2017, two earthquakes occurred within weeks; a 3.1 magnitude quake on Aug. 27 and a 2.7 quake on Sept. 1, 2017.
On May 18, 2018, a 3.5 magnitude earthquake occurred in Johnson County near Venus. No major damage was reported.
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.
2015 (3.0) — Karnes County. A 3.0 magnitude earthquake occurred 14 miles west of Karnes City on Jan. 30 at about 8:27 p.m. No major damage was reported.
2015-2020 (5.0) — Permian Basin. On March 26, 2020, a 5.0 magnitude earthquake occurred around Orla near the boundary of Reeves and Culberson counties around 10:50 a.m. A smaller 3.8 quake occurred earlier in the same area shortly before 4 a.m. More than a thousand people reported feeling the earthquake in Odessa, El Paso, and southern New Mexico. A third earthquake of 3.0 magnitude occurred in the area at 11:16 a.m. On March 27, four more quakes, including one measured at 3.7 magnitude, occurred in the same area.
On Feb. 18, 2020, a 3.9 magnitude earthquake occurred to the west of Mentone in northern Reeves County. It followed by several minutes a 3.2 quake that occurred in northern Culberson County.
In Scurry County, a 3.8 magnitude earthquake occurred northeast of Snyder on Jan. 10, 2016. A quake of 3.5 magnitude occurred in the same area on Jan. 17. Another 3.5 magnitude quake occurred in that area of Scurry County on Jan. 6, 2015. In Reeves County, a 3.3 magnitude earthquake occurred 23 miles southeast of Pecos on April 3, 2015, at 7:16 p.m. In Pecos County on Aug. 12 a 3.0 magnitude earthquake occurred 19 miles west-northwest of Fort Stockton at 3:49 p.m. On Nov. 10 at the Reeves-Ward county line a 3.2 magnitude quake occurred at 3:45 p.m. On Sept. 6, 2016, a 3.6 magnitude earthquake occurred 19 miles southeast of Pecos. This was followed by several others in the area of Pecos and Balmorhea, including 3.0 on Oct. 29.
On Aug. 21, 2017, at 4:44 a.m., a 3.2 magnitude earthquake occurred between Pecos and Fort Stockton. Between Aug. 30 and Sept. 8, there were ten earthquakes in the basin from Snyder to Pecos, the largest being measured at 3.4 magnitude southeast of Pecos on Sept. 3. On Sept. 14, a 3.2 earthquake occurred southeast of Pecos. On Sept. 27, two earthquakes occurred between Pecos and Fort Stockton, a 3.0 magnitude quake took place at 4:15 a.m., followed two hours later by a 2.7 magnitude earthquake. On Oct. 21, a 3.1 magnitude earthquake occurred near Pecos at 4:50 p.m., followed four hours later by a 2.7 magnitude quake in the same area.
On Jan. 2, 2018, a 3.3 magnitude earthquake occurred between Pecos and Balmorhea at 7:42 a.m. On Jan. 25, a 3.0 magnitude earthquake occurred near Snyder at 7:28 a.m. Three earthquakes occurred on June 3, 2018, between Pecos and Balmorhea; the strongest being measured at 3.1 magnitude. The previous Monday, May 28, a 3.0 magnitude quake occurred in the same area.
On Aug. 16, 2019, a 3.0 magnitude earthquake occurred near Mentone in Loving County.
On Feb. 19, 2020, a 3.3 magnitude earthquake occurred between Midland and Odessa. On Feb. 29–March 1, 2020, two earthquakes occurred in the same area east of Odessa. One was of 3.0 magnitude, and the other was 2.3 magnitude.
On April 4, 2020, a 3.3 magnitude earthquake occurred between Balmorhea and Fort Davis. On April 10-16, 2020, five earthquakes occurred west of Mentone, with magnitudes ranging from 2.6 to 3.4. On April 21, a 3.1 magnitude earthquake occurred between Odessa and Midland. On April 30, a 3.2 magnitude quake occurred east of Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Culberson County. The earthquake was followed by several tremors measuring less that 3.0 magnitude.
On Nov. 14, 2020, a 3.5 magnitude earthquake occurred 13 miles north of Snyder in Scurry County. A few days earlier, on Nov. 9, a 3.0 quake occurred at Gardendale between Midland and Odessa.
2015 (3.0) — Gonzales County. A 3.0 magnitude earthquake occurred about 14 miles east of Nixon at 6:35 a.m. Dec. 14. No major damage was reported.
2017 (3.0) – Off South Padre Island. A 3.0 magnitude earthquake which occurred Dec. 16 some 60 miles off the coast was felt in several areas of South Texas. No major damage was reported.
2018 (3.5) – Atascosa County. A 3.5 magnitude earthquake occurred near Fashing on Jan. 6. A 3.1 magnitude earthquake occurred near Jourdanton on June 1. No major damage was reported.
2018 (3.2) – Shelby County. A 3.2 magnitude earthquake occurred near Timpson on Sept. 4. No major damage was reported.
2018 (4.0) – Potter County. A 4.0 magnitude earthquake occurred 9 miles northeast of Amarillo on Oct. 20. No major damage was reported.
2019 (3.6) – Coastal Bend. A 3.6 magnitude earthquake occurred in Karnes County near Falls City on June 15. Four earthquakes occurred in the region of DeWitt, Wilson, and Gonzales counties between April 23 and May 14. The largest two, measured at 3.1 magnitude, occurred near Nixon and Cuero. One near Stockdale was measured at 3.0 magnitude. No major damage was reported.
2019-2020 (4.0) – Scurry County. A 4.0 magnitude earthquake occurred 13 miles north of Snyder on Sept. 30. This was followed by two smaller tremors in the same area within 24 hours; one measured at 3.8 magnitude and another measured at 2.5 magnitude. On March 13, 2020, a 3.0 magnitude earthquake occurred 8 miles north of Synder. No major damage was reported.
2019 (3.8) – Johnson County. A 3.8 magnitude earthquake occurred near Lillian just south of Fort Worth on Oct. 1. No major damage was reported.
2020 (3.1) – Karnes County. A 3.1 magnitude earthquake occurred near Karnes City on April 19.
Sources: Principally, the U.S. Geological Survey and the Institute for Geophysics at the University of Texas at Austin. Also, previous Texas Almanacs.