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How vulnerable is Montana to earthquakes?

Earthquake Risk across the United States
Posted at 6:21 PM, Feb 08, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-09 16:17:30-05

GREAT FALLS — The Treasure State is in one of the most seismically active regions in the United States. The intermountain seismic belt, which runs through the western third of the state, is where the majority of the earthquake activity occurs in Montana. The vast majority of quakes are very small, and rarely felt by people.

However, there have been some notable earthquakes in Montana’s history, including the 7.3 magnitude Hebgen Lake earthquake on August 17, 1959. The earthquake triggered more than 160 new geysers throughout Yellowstone National Park. There were also around 28 fatalities from a rockslide in Madison Canyon.

And on July 6, 2017, one of the strongest earthquakes to hit Montana in decades shook the community of Lincoln northwest of Helena. It was centered 5.5 miles southeast of Lincoln at a depth of about 2.6 miles. People reported feeling the 5.8 magnitude quake across Montana and the northwest, with some reports coming from as far away as Vancouver and Lethbridge, Canada. It has caused some minor damage, but no fatalities or serious injuries.

The plains of central and eastern Montana are much less prone to quakes, but there have been a handful of significant ones reported.

According to the USGS, a 5.3 magnitude earthquake struck northeastern Montana on May 15th, 1909. Several smaller quakes have been recorded in Roosevelt County, including an estimated 4.5 magnitude quake in the town of Froid that resulted in some damage to a grain bin back in 1943.

Although it has been some time since the state has seen a destructive earthquake, small quakes occur several times every day. Click here to learn more about earthquake preparedness.


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