This is the Biggest and Most Damaging Earthquake in Michigan’s History


Michigan is not known for its earthquake risk, yet it has had several major earthquakes over its history. The most recent earthquake was a magnitude 4.2 on May 2, 2015, in Galesburg, southeast of Kalamazoo. It was felt throughout the state and in numerous adjacent states, however there was no significant damage or casualties.

However, this was not the most powerful earthquake to ever hit Michigan. The title refers to a magnitude-4.6 earthquake that struck Coldwater on August 10, 1947. According to experts at the University of Michigan, this was the greatest earthquake with an epicenter in Michigan in data dating back approximately a century.

The 1947 Coldwater Earthquake

The 1947 Coldwater earthquake struck at 11:27 a.m. local time and was felt over much of the Midwest, including Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Ontario, Canada. It damaged buildings in Coldwater, Kalamazoo, and other nearby cities. Some chimneys crumbled, windows shattered, plaster split, and bricks tumbled off buildings.

People reported hearing loud booms, experiencing intense vibrations, and witnessing items tumble off shelves. In certain regions, the quake also caused disruptions to telephone and power services. The epicenter of the earthquake occurred about 12 miles southwest of Coldwater, near the Indiana border. The depth of the quake was assessed to be 3 kilometers.

The source of the quake remained unknown, however, it was most likely caused by old faults in the foundation rocks that lie beneath the newer rocks of the Michigan Basin. These faults can be generated by current forces such as glacier weight, crust rebound after melting or tectonic plate movement.

Implications of Michigan Earthquakes

Earthquakes in Michigan are uncommon, but not entirely unexpected or startling. Since 1900, the state has seen 225 earthquakes with magnitudes up to 5.1, however only two of these were more than 5.0, while 13 were between 4.0 and 5.0. The majority of the quakes were below magnitude 3.0, which people do not generally experience. Quakes often occur in clusters, with periods of increasing activity followed by periods of quiet.

Earthquakes in Michigan offer minimal risk to life or property since they are often too weak or deep to inflict substantial damage. However, seismic waves may still be felt over great distances because they travel more efficiently through the solid and inflexible crust of the central United States than through the more cracked and deformed crust of the western United States. As a result, even a minor earthquake in Michigan can be felt by millions of people across many states.

Earthquakes in Michigan give significant information to scientists studying the region’s geology and geophysics. They contribute to mapping the position and direction of hidden faults, estimating stress and strain in the crust, and understanding the seismic hazard and risk in the area. They also provide a chance for public education and awareness of earthquake preparedness and safety.


In conclusion, Michigan has a rich earthquake history despite its reputation. Michigan’s strongest earthquake was the 1947 Coldwater 4.6. Although seismic occurrences are rare in the state, they provide vital geological data. These earthquakes help scientists trace fault lines, estimate crust stress, and raise earthquake preparation awareness. While Michigan’s seismic occurrences offer little risk, their influence extends beyond the state, underscoring the need for study and public education.

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