weather icon Partly Cloudy

Why is Nevada an earthquake hot spot?

Updated November 18, 2023 - 5:49 pm

The recent swarm of small earthquakes near Reno is a reminder that Nevada is a hot spot for seismic activity.

“Earthquakes are an everyday thing in Nevada,” said William Savran, network manager for the Nevada Seismological Laboratory, based at the University of Nevada, Reno, in an October interview.

Nevada’s history is full of temblors, from the biggest one in the state’s recorded history in 1915, which was a magnitude 7.3 that struck about 50 miles south of Winnemucca, to the magnitude 6.5 Monte Cristo earthquake that struck near Tonopah in May 2020.

Since 1915 eight of Nevada’s largest earthquakes have all registered magnitude 6 or over.

And according to a report titled “Nevada’s Earthquake History” on shakeout.org, a website managed by the Southern California Earthquake Center at the University of Southern California, tens of thousands of microearthquakes happen every year in Nevada.

On average, Savran said, about 10 earthquakes a day occur in Nevada, typically small ones.

But why is Nevada so prone to earthquakes?

“Pretty much any mountain range that you see in Nevada has some faulting associated with it,” Savran said. “So there’s a pretty large potential for earthquakes here.”

The Silver State also has “dozens of active faults,” an article about Nevada’s earthquake risks on UNLV’s website says.

“Few in the Las Vegas Valley realize that Nevada is the nation’s third-most seismically active state — behind California and Alaska — with active faults statewide capable of ‘the big one,’” the article says.

Nevada also shares with California the Walker Lane, an “approximately 1000-kilometer-long (625 miles) corridor riddled with hundreds of earthquake faults,” according to an article on UNR’s website.

As such, earthquake experts urge Nevadans to always be prepared for an earthquake. Information on earthquake preparedness can be found on the Nevada Division of Emergency Management’s website.

“We definitely have the potential for large earthquakes here,” Savran said. “I mean, historically, there have been multiple magnitude 6s and magnitude 7s that have happened over the last century.”

Contact Brett Clarkson at bclarkson@reviewjournal.com.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.