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yellowstone quake
Eliza Wiley Independent Record Bison lounge around in the sun near Old Faithful in this file photo from 2005. The Volcano Alert Level at Yellowstone National Park remained at “normal” Friday, despite a swarm of earthquakes large enough to trigger seismographs in the Flathead Valley and cause chatter on Twitter.

The Volcano Alert Level at Yellowstone National Park remained at “normal” Friday, despite a swarm of earthquakes large enough to trigger seismographs in the Flathead Valley and cause chatter on Twitter.

Working around the clock, scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Yellowstone Volcano Observatory had recorded more than 1,033 earthquakes since Monday, including at least eight events over magnitude three.

The Earthquake Studies Office in Butte is also monitoring the activity using the Montana Seismograph Network.

The string of temblors has kept scientists busy plotting data and passing real-time information on to public safety officials in and around Yellowstone Park.

Despite the flurry of activity, however, many Yellowstone locals haven’t felt a thing, and scientists are calling the swarm of quakes typical for the seismically prone region that is home to one of the world’s larger volcanoes.

“This is a big swarm,” said Robert Smith. “These things don’t happen very often. They may have a deep volcanic connection, but right now, it seems to be related to tectonics.”

There was a similar swarm in 2009. Over a 13-day period last year, geologists recorded around 900 quakes in the Yellowstone Lake Area. Of those, 111 were greater than magnitude 2 and 18 were greater than magnitude 3.

As of Friday morning, geologists had already plotted more than 1,033 quakes, including a magnitude 3.7 event on Wednesday night, followed 15 minutes later by a 3.8 magnitude event.

“We’re recording the bigger ones all the way up in the Flathead,” said Debbie Smith, a seismic analyst at the Earthquake Studies Office in Butte. “The magnitude three or better we’ll see on all our Montana stations.”

Joe Kruzic of the West Yellowstone Chamber of Commerce and the Montana Visitors Center said he hasn’t felt the earth move, though his wife did on Wednesday night when back-to-back temblors struck just after 11 p.m.

“It took her a minute to realize what it was,” Kruzic said. “But when you nearly get thrown out of bed, it doesn’t take you long to know what’s going on.”

Kruzic has lived in the tourist town perched on Yellowstone’s western edge for more than 15 years. While the quake activity gets visitors excited, he said the locals spend more time talking about the economy than the quakes.

Like Kruzic, Shellie Dowdle at the Alpine Motel hasn’t felt the recent activity, nor has Glenn Bell of the Faithful Street Inn. Still, Bell said, tourists arriving in town from nearby city centers come with questions.

“I haven’t felt anything, but I’ve sure read about it,” Bell said. “I’ve had some questions from tourists about it. It’s been in the papers down in Salt Lake City. I don’t know if it’s big news or not.”

The activity is big enough to get people talking in cyberspace. The Denver Post, along with other news sources, is using Tweets to stay on top of the latest earthquake news.

Dina Venezky, a geologist with USGS, said the swarm is on par with an event in 1985 in which scientist recorded more than 3,000 quakes.

“We’re getting a lot of data right now,” Venezky said. “It’s interesting, with swarms, the earthquakes can start up small. There’s no one big earthquake, there are just a bunch of smaller quakes that can increase in intensity and go back down.”

Venezky said scientists had no way of knowing how long the swarm would last, though the 1985 went on for months.

Reporter Martin Kidston: 447-4086 or mkidston@helenair.com

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