An earthquake makes a great action scene. Hollywood’s done a number of movies, including Earthquake and 10.5. More recently, the TV series Bones had what looked like an earthquake but turned out to be a water main break. As the shaking starts, Booth says something like, “Washington DC doesn’t have earthquakes.”
A year later Virginia was struck by a 5.8 earthquake that damaged the National Cathedral and the Washington Monument.
Hollywood is all about making the earthquake exciting, so moviegoers see the ground splitting open and then snapping shut after it swallows a hapless Red Shirt. Or the ground splits open and follows the fleeing heroine (hmm — Didn’t know earthquakes could see and think). Of course, the reality is quite different.
These are some interesting facts I discovered while researching earthquakes for my contemporary fantasy, Miasma:
The Richter Scale is no longer used. According to the Southern California Seismic Center:
Because he [Richter] defined his scale in terms of these torsion seismometers, once these instruments were replaced by more modern equipment, the conversion used to turn seismogram readings into a measure of magnitude was no longer the exact same scale established by Richter in 1935.
Thank goodness fore research. This would have been easy mistake to make.
When I was growing up in Southern California, we went through earthquake drills. One of the things taught was when an earthquake starts to get into a doorway. That’s now outdated advice, according to the US Geological Society:
In past earthquakes in unreinforced masonry structures and adobe homes, the door frame may have been the only thing left standing in the aftermath of an earthquake. Hence, it was thought that safety could be found by standing in doorways. In modern homes doorways are no stronger than any other parts of the house and usually have doors that will swing and can injure you.
When the word ‘earthquake’ is mentioned, we immediately think of California. The state has been the site of several very destructive major quakes — I’ve been in two. For Miasma, I based my story on Hawaii, and that state has earthquakes. In the last week, there were 14. Just for a comparison though, in the same time frame, California had 398!
What kinds of interesting facts have you run across in your research for your book? Tell me about them!
I hope you’ll drop in for a visit with my article Writing a Novel When You’re Right-Brained on Vision: A Resource for Writers. I also have a guest blog on setting on Sue Santore’s blog on October 28.