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A history of earthquakes in New York explained

Did you know NYC has had at least 19 earthquakes with a magnitude of 2.4 or higher?

Shaye Weaver
Written by
Shaye Weaver

New Yorkers have their fair share of disasters to worry about: hurricanes, nor'easters, subway shutdowns.

But earthquakes? Fuggedaboutit!

On Friday, April 5, a 4.8 magnitude earthquake shook the boroughs, shocking and rocking New Yorkers. The tremor occurred near Whitehouse Station, New Jersey, about 40 miles west of New York City, around 10:20 am, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

And while the rumbler was an unusual experience for us, it turns out that earthquakes are more common in New York City than you might think—they’re normally just very small.

“Today’s earthquake was surprising for many, but the New York City Metro area sees smaller-scale seismic activity quite frequently,” says Keiji Hammond, a Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences specialist at the American Museum of Natural History.

“The Earth has continued to shift in very slow increments even in our relatively calm region causing an occasional slippage which can be felt,” she adds. “That said, this was one of the stronger earthquakes we’ve experienced here recently, seemingly occurring a few times a century. We can expect these earthquakes to occur periodically throughout our lifetimes, and well beyond.”

Here’s a brief history of earthquakes in NYC:

1. NYC has had at least 19 earthquakes with a magnitude of 2.4 or higher

According to the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, we’ve had 18 “large” earthquakes since 1737. Today was the 19th.

2. Both of the biggest earthquakes originating from NYC had a 5.2 magnitude

On December 19, 1737, and on August 10, 1884, NYC witnessed 5.2 magnitude earthquakes that knocked down chimneys, according to Columbia University. The one in 1884 could be felt from Virginia to Maine. You can read about what happened that day and New Yorkers’ reactions to it on the National Museum of American History’s website.

The New York Times reported that the Post Office and Equitable Building seemed to sway back and forth and that in some homes, panes of glass, crockery or lamps were broken, the site says.

3. The most similar earthquake to what we felt on Friday was in 1783

A 4.9 magnitude tremor came out of North Central, New Jersey—not too far from Friday’s earthquake! It also apparently knocked chimneys down. Luckily, this quake on Friday didn’t cause any widespread damage.

4. The most recent earthquake in NYC before this one was in Astoria

Earlier this year in January, a magnitude 1.7 earthquake hit near Astoria, Queens. (You can be forgiven if you didn’t feel it!)

Before that, a 2.2-magnitude earthquake struck the New York metropolitan area on May 19, 2023, originating about a mile south Hastings-on-Hudson in Westchester County around 2am, per the United States Geological Survey (USGS).

The last major quake the region felt was in 2011, when a 5.8 earthquake near Virginia shook the ground from Georgia to Canada. 

5. Friday’s tremor is the biggest earthquake with an epicenter in the NYC area since 1884

The 1884 quake mentioned earlier is said to have originated in Brooklyn and hit with a 5.2 magnitude.

Of course, NYC has experienced several earthquakes—most of which did not originate here. Friday’s earthquake was also the third strongest within 250 miles of NYC since 1950, according to The New York Times. There was also an earthquake in the Cornwall-Massena area of New York in 1944. It was the largest in recorded New York history.

Before you go, here is what you should do in New York if you feel another earthquake.

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