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Magnitude 4.8 Earthquake Shakes New Hyde Park

By Carmela Drossman-Schlossberg

At 10:23 a.m. on April 5, 2024, students at New Hyde Park Memorial High School experienced a brief, abrupt shaking sensation. While some students simply thought it was of their own imagination or from the student behind them tapping on their desk, this shaking was caused by a 4.8 magnitude earthquake in Tewksbury, New Jersey. Though no significant damage was reported, the earthquake was one of the strongest ever recorded on the East Coast within the last century.

Earthquakes are caused by the tectonic plates which constitute the Earth’s crust. Gaps between plates are known as faults. The sudden movement along faults releases stored “elastic strain” energy in the form of seismic waves. These seismic waves cause the Earth’s surface to shake. Earthquakes tend to occur near large fault lines, but they can happen anywhere. Thankfully for residents of the northeast, 81% of Earth’s most damaging earthquakes occur in the Pacific Ring of Fire, which includes California, Chile, Japan and many other locations. Fault lines on the West Coast, such as the San Andreas fault, are extremely well studied, making it easier to determine the fault line a quake originated from. 

Reproduced with permission from Rawpixel

A recent magnitude 4.8 earthquake affected parts of New York and New Jersey, causing some damage to infrastructure.

However, it is currently unknown which fault line was responsible for this earthquake. On the East Coast, many plate boundaries are in the center of the Atlantic Ocean, making them harder to research. Furthermore, since such seismic activity is far less common in the East Coast, the tectonic fault systems in the area are not as well-studied as West Coast earthquakes. Researchers have recently been deployed to map out these faults in light of the recent earthquake. 

Historically, earthquakes were measured using the Richter scale, developed by Charles F. Richter in 1934. However, the default scale was changed in the 1970s to the moment magnitude scale, which works over a larger range of earthquake intensities. The strength of an earthquake increases tenfold for every whole number increase on the scale. The 4.8 magnitude quake felt in NHP was one of the stronger earthquakes felt in the area, but not a record. The record for the strongest Long Island quake goes to one that occurred in 1884. 

After the surprising earthquake felt in NHP, students and staff had many opinions.

“At first I didn’t really understand what was happening, just like everyone else,” AP Environmental teacher Mr. Kidonakis said. “You don’t necessarily think about earthquakes in New York when the ground is shaking. Very quickly I realized the shaking was going on for way too long. When I realized it was definitely an earthquake I got really excited because it’s such a rare event here.” 

“I was in my fourth period class on the second floor,” eighth grader Gabriel Gonzalez said. “I wasn't really scared but more shocked. I thought something was happening in another room.” 

“I was in my English class during the earthquake,” freshman Nikita Bansal said. “During the earthquake I felt everything shake a little but I didn’t feel much. When it ended I wasn’t even sure if it was an earthquake at all.”

“I barely even remember the earthquake,” freshman Phoebe Lu said. “All I knew was that I was surprised because the whole school was shaking.” 

While the earthquake became a big topic of conversation in NHP, there were some who didn't even feel the quake when it was happening.

“I was in my AP Seminar class, but I didn't feel anything,” sophomore Aimee Mathew said. “Once I looked at my phone, I realized an earthquake happened without the knowledge of me or my classmates.” 

Although Earthquakes near NHP are uncommon, recent events have shown us that any natural phenomenon is possible, and knowing how to handle such situations is important.

“Earthquakes aren’t predictable, but we do know that historically, there is a magnitude 5.5 or greater earthquake in the New York area every 300 or so years,” Mr. Kidonakis said. “This was close but it was a 4.8, so we still anticipate another earthquake sometime in the future. The best way to stay safe is to recognize it’s an earthquake and get under something sturdy to protect yourself, and if you have the opportunity, get in a doorway.” 


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