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The New Madrid Earthquake Was Supposed to Happen on December 3, 1990

Twenty-five years ago today, yours truly was on the road heading for Cape Girardeau, Missouri to broadcast a Quincy College-Southeast Missouri State University basketball game. I usually didn’t get too nervous going to ballgames, but this time I had a reason to be on edge because this was the predicted day of an earthquake for that area.


I knew of this prognostication weeks ago and as luck would have it I was scheduled to be right in the middle of it. So off I went with my broadcast equipment and a borrowed hardhat (had to have a little fun with it). It was December 3, 1990 and people in Southeast Missouri were stockpiling bottled water and food in preparation for a possible earthquake in the New Madrid Fault zone.

December 3 was the date that climatologist Iben Browning predicted an earthquake would take place along the New Madrid Fault, which runs roughly from Marked Tree, Arkansas, through the Missouri Bootheel and into Southern Illinois. All the commotion stemmed from the work of Browning, who was in New Mexico at the time. Browning reported that tidal forces were coming to a head on or about December 3, and would create a 50-50 chance for an earthquake measuring 7.0 or greater in the New Madrid Fault areas of Southeast Missouri, Northeast Arkansas, Southern Illinois, Northern Tennessee and Western Kentucky.

Schools throughout southeast Missouri’s Bootheel region cancelled classes for the day, but the game was still on. Stores found it difficult to keep in stock items such as bottled water, can openers and other emergency supplies. And travel agents were busy helping people make plans to be out of town that week.

The New Madrid Fault zone usually produces about 200 quakes a year, but most are hardly felt. That area actually felt a small quake last week. So there I was, sitting in the gymnasium located right on the New Madrid Fault, with my headsets on, covered by a hardhat.  The local newspaper took a picture of me court-side, but I am not sure if it ever made the Cape Girardeau paper.

The players moved up and down the court that night, but the ground never did. Thank goodness. It was a date I will never forget in my broadcasting career.

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