This is the Biggest and Most Damaging Earthquake in Utah History


Utah is not a state commonly associated with earthquakes, yet it has suffered numerous big seismic occurrences throughout its history. The most violent and catastrophic one took place on March 12, 1934, near the Great Salt Lake. This earthquake had a magnitude of 6.6 and caused widespread damage and terror throughout the region.

What Happened on March 12, 1934?

On that tragic day, at about 8:05 a.m., a powerful earthquake shook the northern banks of Great Salt Lake, near the Locomotive Springs Wildlife Management Area. The tremor lasted around 30 seconds and was felt in Idaho, Nevada, Wyoming, and Arizona. It was Utah’s first and greatest recorded earthquake.

According to historical records, the earthquake caused extensive damage and disturbance. It cracked walls, overturned chimneys, smashed windows, and knocked furniture and dishes from shelves. It also had an impact on the community’s water supply, transportation, and communication networks. Many individuals were startled out of their sleep, and others fled their homes in fright. Some believed that the end of the world was imminent, or that the British were striking again.

The earthquake also influenced several of the region’s well-known people. George Albert Smith, later president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was in Salt Lake City and felt the quake. He described it as “the most severe shock that I have ever experienced”. Heber J. Grant, the church’s president at the time, was in St. George and did not feel the earthquake, but learned about it from his son. He stated that he was “very thankful that no lives were lost”.

What Caused the Earthquake?

The specific source of the earthquake is uncertain, although some scientists believe it is linked to the Ramapo Fault, a 300-kilometer-long fracture zone that spans across Utah, New York, and Pennsylvania. The Ramapo Fault is part of the Reading Prong, a geological feature that formed after the breakup of the supercontinent Pangaea.

The Ramapo Fault is deemed dormant, which means that earthquakes do not occur regularly. However, it may still be exposed to periodic tension and displacement, which might result in seismic activity. Some researchers believe the 1934 earthquake was one of these uncommon instances, maybe caused by a quick slide or rupture along the fault.

What Were the Consequences of the Earthquake?

The 1934 earthquake had no deaths, although it did inflict major damage and inconvenience. The estimated cost of the damage was around $300,000, which was a significant sum at the time. The earthquake had a considerable impact on the ecology, the economy, and the society of the region.

The earthquake also had a scientific and social influence. It attracted interest and controversy among the general public and academics, who attempted to comprehend and explain the occurrence. It also influenced several creative and literary works, including poetry, music, and paintings. Some of these pieces conveyed fear, amazement, or thanks for surviving the earthquake.

How Does the 1934 Earthquake Compare to Other Earthquakes in Utah?

The 1934 earthquake is the most powerful and destructive in Utah’s history. Since then, the state has seen around 100 other earthquakes, although none have had the same severity or damage. The most recent earthquake in Utah took place on March 18, 2020, in Magna. It had a magnitude of 5.7, resulting in minor damage and disturbance but no injuries or deaths.

The 1934 earthquake is also considered one of the most significant in the United States. Only a few other earthquakes have outperformed it in magnitude or damage, including the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the 1964 Alaska earthquake, the 1994 Northridge earthquake, and the 2011 Virginia earthquake.


In short, Utah, although not being generally identified with seismic activity, endured its most damaging earthquake on March 12, 1934, near the Great Salt Lake. With a magnitude of 6.6, it caused massive damage, made history, and is still the state’s most violent earthquake. Subsequent earthquake occurrences in Utah have been less severe, emphasizing the unique significance of the 1934 catastrophe.

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