A tiny earthquake caused widespread panic in southern New York early Tuesday morning.

First Earthquake of the Year

On Tuesday morning, residents of the New York City area were jolted wide awake by a 1.7 magnitude tremor. It was strong enough to knock out power and rattle buildings in Queens, Roosevelt Island and the Upper East Side.

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Photo Credit - Drew Angerer / Getty Images

Area residents say they were awoken around 5:45 a.m. by what sounded like a series of explosions before their buildings started rocking. Calls to 911 flooded dispatch centers and authorities immediately began their investigation to locate the cause of the commotion.

Eyewitnesses say responders were even popping manhole covers.

Hours later, the United States Geological Survey confirmed a small, 1.7-magnitude earthquake erupted near Astoria, which is a neighborhood in Queens that's home to roughly 100,000 people.

No one was injured by the quake and investigations are underway to check the structural integrity of the buildings in the affected areas. The local power authority is also investigating if their utilities have been impacted.


Can New York Get Large Earthquakes?

Felt earthquakes in New York are extremely rare. The last reported quake was a 2.2-magnitude quake that shook parts of Westchester County and New Jersey in May 2023. For the NYC-area, there hasn't been a tremor since June 2019. It should be noted that particular quake transpired after long period of seismic activity silence that began in 2004.

Photo Credit: Kevork Djansezian, Getty Images
Photo Credit: Kevork Djansezian, Getty Images

However, the timing of this latest tremor comes shortly after Japan suffered a devastating 7.2-magnitude quake that killed at least 62 people. This has some seismologists wondering when - or if - a larger quake will inevitably impact the Empire State.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, people don't typically feel earthquakes that are below a magnitude 3, but that doesn't mean they're any less dangerous. Even a magnitude 1 quake can cause damage depending on where and how close it occurs to civilization.

According to the Los Angeles Times, a majority of earthquakes that are strong enough to be felt are preceded by a series of smaller tremors. Daniel Trugman, a seismologist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, spoke to the publication about the research being done to pinpoint "how earthquakes get started."

Seismologists are looking into strong seismic activity that came after precursory events. A look into the state of California, it was found that between 2008 and 2017, least 72 percent of all their quakes above a magnitude-4 were preceded by smaller tremors.

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But that research was for California - New York can be an entirely different animal due to geological differences in the fault lines, which are less active than California's. And while the majority of earthquakes in the Empire State are on the lesser side of the scale, that doesn't mean the area hasn't seen its fair share of severe seismic activity.

For example. a 5.3-magnitude quake rocked Coney Island in 1884.

Arnold Genthe, Getty Images
Arnold Genthe, Getty Images

That said, experts doubt the latest quake in Queens is a sign that a stronger event is on the horizon.

John C. Mutter, a professor of earth and environmental studies at Columbia University told the New York Times:

A lot of what you feel here, these little earthquakes, are a settling down of the stresses from way back then... It takes a while for things to settle.

That said, Mutter is of the mindset that a magnitude-4 or above quake in New York is on the "improbable" side.

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