Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Quite A Day!

It started just like all my days do. Get up in pain, get a bagel, take meds, take nap, feel much better. Not terribly exciting, is it? Especially the initial waking. But it got much more interesting in rather short order.

I was wide awake and doing various things online, when suddenly both cats jumped up, gave a weird undulating sound - I've never heard a living thing make such a strange sound - and disappeared downstairs like bats outta Hell! It was bizarre. I didn't have a lot of time to really contemplate what that was all about, because moment later the couch was suddenly gently shaking from side to side. I was struck silent, listening for any outside sounds - a truck rolling by, a low-flying plane, but it was still - that eerie stillness that could only mean an earthquake.

I looked over to see the hanging chair swaying and in a clear container Luis left out with red soda in it, there were constant ripples - and I began timing the quake. I knew I'd go on line to report it as soon as it was over, and that is one of the questions the USGS asks - the length of the quake.

That was 13:51 today. It lasted 28 seconds.

I remember it from the last time, in 2002 - no more cacophony of birds, no cars or trucks or airplanes in the suddenly crazy-quiet stillness which is the complete cessation of sound. Nothing else sounds like this - there are always outside noises that we are accustomed to or learn to tune out. But in an age of electronics whining, appliances humming, air condition thrumming, the sudden stop of all of that was shocking, like being struck full-on by icy cold water.

That is the cornerstone sign - for me - of an earthquake.

I have experienced four earthquakes in my lifetime: two in my senior year in high school in 1986 around the month of May. The first one was at dawn and my waterbed was just ever so slightly moving. So was the light hanging over my bed. Eerie...

A couple of days later I was in the shower just after dawn and the water suddenly came out in fits and spurts... it was very strange. I wasn't in a room where I could see other objects moving but I wasn't thinking about earthquakes at that moment. But when I went to my astronomy class at the Garrett Mountain Reservation and Observatory, it was right there on the seismograph slowly spinning. They both were. The first one was a 2.2 and the second a 2.6. I was amazed and thought it was really cool.

The third one was early one April morning in 2002. It was 06:20, Luis was asleep in bed one floor below (this was our 220 Camden Rd house, not this house). I was up in my office, working on a letter to one of my penfriends. I was working on my computer, when my then-cats (Ariel died at age 18 in June 2008 and Chelsea died September 2008, same age) jumped, let out a funny yowl, and both were outta there as though catapulted from the room. I didn't jump up to go after them, as that was when I noticed the other strange part of the tale.

I was sitting there wondering what that was all about, when I realised that something was wrong. I couldn't think what it could be - it was just this nagging feeling that something was really off. At 06:20, there are usually all kinds of signs of life. Usually the noisy chatterings of birds are very audible, and the background noise of Route 80 traffic over the sound barrier. But there was not a sound of any kind.

I looked up at my monitor and it was gently swaying from side to side. I watched as one pen rolled back and forth. I looked out the window, but the outside world looked at it always did. But I timed it - approximately 18 seconds, not long.

The moment it ended, the normal noises and sounds of morning were all back on with extra vigor - as though the birds were relieved no last damage had occurred. I was amused, I admit it. The earthquake was a 2.6 magnitude shake, very small, but the epicenter was Plattsburgh, NY, not more than 4 or 5 hours north of here. That's quite close. The magnitude there was 5.5 and the shifting of the crust was very visible. Roads were destroyed by it. In our house, six hairline cracks appeared in the ceiling and walls of the living room, which had been painted just a couple of months prior.

I went on to the United States Geological Survey Web site and found a link to report the quake.

The quake today is estimated by the USGS to be 3.0, by far the most intense quake I've experienced. And it left some very minor cracks in the ceiling and a couple of newer painted rooms. I reported this to the USGS as soon as I realised it was an earthquake (it didn't take long to recognise what was happening). It's very easy to report:

Go to www.usgs.gov
Scroll down to the link Did You Feel It? and click on it.
Fill in all the information.
Click on SUBMIT when finished.

That's it. It took about 10 minutes total to report it, I just needed to walk around and assess any new damage (the house is my age- 43 years old - and some cracks exist due to normal settling. But I found three new ones and an old one that has another 3" to it now. For a 3.0, that is not bad. I plan to take images of the cracks to document the changes just in case there is another quake and something needs to be done at some point. That seems unlikely, though.

When I went onto Facebook and mentioned it, no one had said anything but not long after, strings of comments began to appear. For some it was scary, others amusing, but most knew what it was. I loved it - I'll be honest - both from the standpoint of being fascinated with plate techtonics and also the knowledge that earthquakes relieve building pressure in the crust, and a few minor quakes once in a great while beats the hell out of experiencing something with a very damaging magnitude of 6.0 or higher. Look at how many places have had deaths from earthquakes because the pressure reached a point where the epicenter was dangerously high and also had stronger P waves, the damaging part of the quake. Here a 3.0 is just letting off a little steam. No one died, no one was hurt.

After I ate my lunch, I decided to go turn into a parsnip in my hammock and made the comment on Facebook that maybe another quake would roll through and move the hammock for me (most people liked the humour). I didn't expect any additional quakes or aftershocks (we are too far from the epicenter to really have that) and nothing happened. I imagine in Virginia, where the quake originated as a 5.9 (yow!) they had some minor aftershocks.

I stayed out in my hammock until 21:22 - I came in once to get more water and hook up power to there for my flagging iPod around 17:45 and then I popped in around 20:10 to put on warmer clothes. August is like that - I was roasting at 16:30, freezing by 19:45. It got very cool out there. But I love August, with the changes from day to night. It was like watching the changing of the guard. Slowly the birds disappeared and gave up their conversations to the silent quick movements of the bats getting their breakfast of insects; the normal insects of the daytime like crickets gave way to the concert given by the cicadas; the blue of the day time sky morphed into the purply-black canopy of night with stars - Polaris being the first - popping out to populate the panoply. It was lovely.

It is still summer, but with the promise of autumn now in the evening air. The best time of the summer and my favourite time just behind October with its brilliant autumn leaves and brisk but comfortable weather.

Venus has now gone behind the Sun, ending her tour as the Morning Star, but will return brilliant and beautiful once more as the Evening Star come December. Jupiter is really the only bright planet now, rising before 22:00 and prominent and brilliant in the sky through 28 October. Then he will dwindle and not be so close and bright until 2022. Saturn was well visible until now, setting around 21:30, especially since it is coming out of its 29-year cycle where the rings have been edge-wise for the last six years. Now the rings are finally opening up again. Mars has been rising around 02:00, so is not visible to me most of this summer. But he will brighten dramatically in December and be visible the whole night.

And that was my very good day!

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