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Thank Goodness November Has Passed!

Seismograph image of an earthquake
Seismograph image of shallow earthquake.

With November as a memory, the seismic people can relax. Historically, November marks the month when two destructive earthquakes have hit the Big Island. The first occurred on November 29, 1975 and the second shook the island on November 16, 1983. Though we all know that earthquakes can occur in any month, it is curious that both of these big shocks chose November.

At 3:35 a.m. on November 29, 1975, Big Islanders were awakened by a 5.7-magnitude foreshock. About an hour later at 4:47 a.m., the main shock occurred. This 7.2-magnitude Kalapana earthquake was felt island-wide and across the Hawaiian chain and caused extensive damage. Major ground movement, property damage, electrical outages, telephone pole-sized cracks in roads, shattered windows, merchandise falling from store shelves, coastal subsiding of 3.5 meters (11 feet), a tsunami of 14.6 meters (48 feet) that killed two overnight campers, and a short-lived eruption were some the results of this earthquake.

The November 16, 1983, Ka`oiki earthquake was another early-morning startler. This 6:13 a.m. earthquake was felt for nearly a minute. The 6.7-magnitude earthquake shifted houses from their foundations, overturned water tanks, cut telephone and electric lines, broke plate glass windows, disrupted water and utility services, cracked ceiling and walls in homes and businesses, cracked roadways, and toppled scientific instruments here at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

Plot showing 11/16/83 and 11/29/75 Earthquake locations
Earthquake epicenters of 11/16/83 and 11/29/75 Shocks

Just as a reminder: large earthquakes in Hawaii do occur at any time, and you should take precautions to prevent their possible damaging effects. Follow building codes established for the Big Island, secure propane and water tanks, prepare an emergency cache of food and water, and head for high ground if you're at the beach during a strong earthquake.

And yes, when November comes around again, cross your fingers that no major earthquakes hit our Big Island. Three in 25 years would be a bit much!

November 29, 1975 Kalapana Earthquake

The most current Volcano Watch article.

The Probability of Lava Inundation at the Proposed and Existing Kulani Prison Sites, 1998, USGS Open File 98-794.

If you felt an earthquake and would like to report it, go to the Earthquake Felt Report Form. We encourage you to submit such reports, which help us determine the intensity of the earthquake.

Previous Feature Stories.


Photo of Jack Kleinman The 1999 Jack Kleinman (left) Volcano Research Grants Program. The program is intended to perpetuate and memorialize the attributes embodied by Jack Kleinman, a USGS employee who died in a kayaking accident in 1994.


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Updated: April 29, 2003 (pnf)