Do earthquakes occur in New Mexico? The surprising answer is yes. Although New Mexico is home to ancient, quiescent volcanoes and small mountain ranges, it isn't frequently thought of as a place where earthquakes take place. And yet, they do.
On August 22, 2011, a 5.3 earthquake occurred about nine miles WSW of Trinidad, Colorado and about seven miles north of the New Mexico border. It was the largest earthquake in Colorado since 1967.
But wasn't that a Colorado quake?
It was, but as is the way with earthquakes, they don't worry about state borders. The August 22 quake was felt in New Mexico, especially in nearby Raton. At a distance of about 20 miles northwest of Raton, New Mexico, the August 22 quake was a very friendly neighbor.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the Colorado/New Mexico region has been part of a decade-long swarm of quakes, though none have been as large as the August 22 event. This quake followed three smaller events that occurred earlier in the day. The probability of future events in the region, according to the USGS, is highly likely.
A History of Quakes
For New Mexico, the area that is home to more earthquakes than any other region is in the Rio Grande Valley, between Socorro and Albuquerque. The USGS reports that about half of the earthquakes of the intensity VI (modified Mercalli intensity) or greater that happened between 1868 and 1973 took place in this region.
The first reported earthquake in New Mexico took place on April 20, 1855. The Socorro area had a series of smaller quakes followed by more moderately intense tremors in 1906 and 1907. On July 16, 1907 the shock was felt as far away as Raton.
Belen, located about 20 miles south of Albuquerque, had a series of earthquakes from December 12 to 30 in 1935.
One shock was so strong it cracked the brick walls of an old school.
Even Albuquerque has had its share of earthquake events. On July 12, 1893, three intensity V quakes shook the city. In 1931, an intensity VI quake shook residents from their beds and caused a minor panic.
In 1970, a 3.8 quake woke the city. A rooftop air conditioner shook loose and fell through a skylight. There were broken windows, plaster cracks, and the roof of a barn collapsed.
Another large recorded quake in New Mexico took place on January 22, 1966 near Dulce, in the northwestern corner of the state. The USGS report notes that buildings were damaged, both inside and outside. Chimneys were never the same. The largest property to sustain damage was the Bureau of Indian Affairs School. Even the highway sustained a crack.
New Mexico's Largest Earthquake
On November 15, 1906, an intensity VII quake shook the Socorro area. It was felt through most of New Mexico and even as far away as Arizona and Texas. The Socorro courthouse lost some of its plaster; the two-story Masonic Temple lost a cornice and bricks flew from the gable of a Socorro house. As far away as Santa Fe, plaster shook free of walls.
New Mexico also experienced a 5.1 earthquake near Dulce in 1996 and a 5.0 quake on August 10, 2005, about 25 miles west of Raton.
New Mexico's Last Sizeable Earthquake
New Mexico experienced a 2.8 earthquake on May 19, 2011 in the Truth or Consequences area, about 47 miles southwest of the Socorro region, where most of the state's earthquake activity takes place. This is the latest shaking going on in New Mexico.
So although New Mexico isn't a hotbed for earthquake activity, it isn't immune from a seismic dance or two. As befits the low key nature of the state, its earthquakes are small and unobtrusive, rather befitting of a state known for its earthy adobe walls and elegant mesas.