Storm or Earthquake - It Couldn't Be Both - Or Could It?
Some Notions Are Stranger Than Fiction (but that doesn't make them untrue)
In the notorious Port Royal, capital to Jamaica and home to pirates, on Tuesday June 17th, 1692 (although by their calendar it was the 7th of June since they were still using the Old Style or Julian Calendar) an earthquake with an estimated magnitude of 7.5 (Ms) struck the island at approximately 11:40am, local mean time. Many buildings fell, but even more sunk 40 feet, becoming submerged in the sea, due to liquifaction or were destroyed by the tsunami that also resulted. Anywhere from 1600 to 2200 or a third to half of the population were killed directly by the quake with about another 1000 later due to such things as disease. The place was such a shambles that the survivors decided to relocate and Kingston, Jamaica was born the following year. On January 14, 1907, an estimated 6.5 magnitude earthquake struck Kingston, killing approximately 1,000 people. A seismic expert now warns Jamaica that they should be preparing for another catastrophic event (see http://www.caribbean360.com/index.php/news/jamaica_news/677133.html ).
But Jamaica isn't just about pirates, rum, reggae, beautiful beaches and earthquakes. They get visited by hurricanes too and have suffered many times as a result of them. Recently, earthquake experts have admitted two things that they used to deny vehemently. One is that super large quakes can trigger smaller quakes over great distances (many of them changed their thinking when just that occurred following the double 8+ magnitude quakes in Indonesia back in April 2012).
The other is that there was often a relationship between big storms and earthquakes. The USGS site may still state that there is no connection between earthquakes and the weather, but there is a growing number of earth scientists who have or may be about to change their mind on that. Here is just one article reflecting this that has popped up on the internet over the past two years: http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/green-living/why-the-haiti-earthquake-may-not-have-been-a-natural-disaster-6275044.html .
As if to back just that up, I recently discovered that there was a hurricane striking Jamaica the same day as that historic earthquake of June 17th, 1692. Interestingly, it was the only hurricane ever to strike Jamaica in June (see pg. 267 of Encyclopedia of Hurricanes, Typhoons, and Cyclones by David Longshore, published in 2009). Also of interest is that, looking at the statistical probability of an earthquake occurring in June, earthquakes are at least 1.5Xs more likely to happen in January than in June. But it would appear that it is noticeably more probable to occur in June when there happens to be a nearly never occurring hurricane.
In any event, the Port Royal earthquake could not be dismissed as being mistaken for the effects of a raging storm; so in the case of the 1692 earthquake, the quake stuck in the history books, but the Hurricane got buried in an obscure footnote somewhere. But usually it is the other way around.
Time for a Change In Our Thinking..
Seismologists, and I have been guilty of this too, have dismissed historical earthquakes and chose not to include them in their databases because there was a report of a simultaneous storm with the earthquake. One would be tempted to believe that the storm was so violent that it took down buildings and made a great noise that people mistook for an earthquake. In other words, the general consensus would be: "It is highly improbable, therefore it is most likely impossible" (another victim of Occam's razor). In other words, when in doubt, throw it out.
As I said, I have been guilty of dismissing such earthquakes in the past and I never bothered to record a rejection list. However, there is the catalog by John Mallet from the mid 1850s that can be searched via Google Books. From that I found a few gems that follow:
On November 9, 1761 (date only per another source; Mallet's gave December 9, 1761 or the same date as a 7.7 magnitude event occurred on the Russian/Mongolian border), most of Carthagena, in South America was destroyed by an earthquake that was accompanied by a great storm. Flood waters came down from the mountains after the quake struck.
In the early afternoon of May 1, 1769, there was a destructive earthquake in Bagdad that threw down anywhere from 2000-4000 houses, or was it the terrible windstorm that accompanied it that did most of the damage?
At 9:10pm on July 29, 1784 and 2am on August 1, 1784, in Haiti and Jamaica, there were dual shock earthquakes that were both accompanied by hurricanes.
At either 5am or 5pm (I believe the later), on August 8, 1806, there was a great quake in Krasnijarsk, Siberia (said to have lasted 4min15s), followed by a second shock not long after. There was reportedly a great storm between the two shocks. To further demonstrate how big this quake was, a mountain reportedly was converted into a lake with a circumference of 300 feet and a depth of 180 feet. The countryside was later found to be covered with volcanic ash.
On August 11, 1831, there was a quake in Antilles, Barbados, Jamaica that reportedly took the lives of 3,000 people. A hurricane also was said to have accompanied it.
One thing besides the fact that these earthquakes were accompanied by great storms, is that you won't find them in conventional historical catalogs of significant earthquake events. Probably, in most cases, those preparing events for inclusion of such a catalog would likely have rejected them as being too far fetched to be accepted as accurate. But that is hopefully something only that was an error of past ways of thinking; perhaps such close-minded ways of looking at the evidence will soon be entirely behind us.
Copyright © 2013 Joseph W. Ritrovato