On July 8, a 2.6 magnitude earthquake was detected in Carroll County, near the border with North Carolina. Two days prior, a 2.7 magnitude quake once again struck the county near the county seat of Hillsville.
Since June 16, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) has recorded several other small quakes in two additional counties, including a magnitude 2.3 quake in Craig County, and a magnitude 2.6 and 2.3 earthquakes in Giles County. (Related: California rumble: Golden State to experience series of MEGA EARTHQUAKES.)
So far, the quakes to hit Virginia in recent weeks have been small. A magnitude 5.3 is considered a moderate earthquake and a 6.3 is a strong earthquake, according to the USGS. But given the recent spike in activity, experts warn that a larger quake could be possible.
"It's a little bit of a burst of activity here. When you see a series of these things in a smaller area, you have to take into account the fact that they may be foreshocks of a bigger earthquake," warned Martin Chapman, a professor of geophysics at the Virginia Institute of Technology's Department of Geosciences.
According to the USGS, a foreshock is an earthquake that precedes a larger earthquake in the same location. Generally, an earthquake cannot be identified as a foreshock until a larger earthquake in the same area occurs.
"Virginia has its fair share of earthquakes," said Chapman, bringing up major earthquakes like the 2011 Mineral Earthquake that shook the East Coast in 2011. "It just came out of the blue."
The Mineral earthquake is the largest earthquake to occur in Virginia in over a century. The earthquake was felt by millions of people throughout the eastern United States and caused an estimated $200 to $300 million in damages, yet no lives were lost.
But Chapman did admit that the recent streak of activity is unusual for the state. "Typically, we'll go about once every six months there will be an earthquake in Virginia that's big enough to be felt," he said.
He pointed out that there have been major earthquakes recorded in the area – known as the Giles County Seismic Zone – since at least 1897, when a 5.8 magnitude quake struck the county.
"And ever since then, we've seen earthquakes in that area – even though most of them aren't to that scale," said Chapman. He added that sometimes, the seismic activity in the area consists of several small earthquakes that precede a larger one. But he noted that this is hard to forecast.
"I can't sit here and tell you these things aren't foreshocks. That's what those folks are talking about. Sometimes bigger earthquakes are proceeded by smaller earthquakes and they're called foreshocks. I think anytime you have a smaller earthquake, you should have a heightened awareness of earthquakes in general," he said.
Despite this, Chapman said Virginians shouldn't panic.
"I just remind everybody in Virginia that we do have earthquakes and occasionally they're damaging," said Chapman, noting that despite the massive amounts of property damage suffered by Virginians in past earthquakes, very few, if any, lives are lost. "Just be aware of the fact that we can have those things."
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Watch this video discussing the earthquake activity being felt all across North America.