Geologist explains the ‘very scary’ earthquake felt by Maryland, DC residents

Hundreds in and around the D.C. Metro area have reported feeling the effects of a small earthquake between Gaithersburg and Rockville, Maryland, according to data from the U.S. Geological Survey. Here’s what you need to know.

Preliminary information reviewed by the agency placed the earthquake at a magnitude of 2.3, with more than 200 individuals reporting feeling a rumbling or loud noise.

Rebecca Kavage Adams, a lead geologist at the Maryland Geological Survey, told WTOP that the epicenter of the earthquake, where it originated from, is calculated to be about 2.2 miles west of Rockville and about four miles south of Gaithersburg.

She said the depth of the earthquake was 15 kilometers.

These small earthquakes that are around this magnitude occur in Maryland somewhat frequently,” Adams said.

But why? And how do they differ from earthquakes in California?

The main difference is thatwe in Maryland are not sitting on a plate boundary,” Adams said. “The earth is made up of plates, tectonic plates. And those are huge, massive blocks of continental crust or bedrock, that have boundaries.”

But there is no plate boundary anywhere nearby Maryland, she said.

So we’re in the middle of a continental plate. And because of that, the earthquakes that we experience are going to be rather small, and they’re going to be transmitted through the earth very differently than earthquakes that occur at a major plate boundary.”

That means they aren’t necessarily felt as intensely, but can be felt farther away. Adams said the agency has seismometers in Point of Rocks, Jarrettsville and in Reisterstown that all picked up the seismic waves from the earthquake in Rockville.

As for whether scientists know what caused this earthquake, Adams said: “The short answer is no.”

We haven’t studied this earthquake yet,” Adams said. 

She said the typical reason for earthquakes on the East Coast is because, even though the bedrock is fairly solid, there are very, very old breaks.

“These are not active faults, but they are still discontinuities in the Earth’s crust that exist in this area,” Adams said. And as the plates spread, “There is stress that accumulates in our part of the world on these very, very old breaks in the Earth’s crust. And so every now and then, enough stress accumulates on those on those planes that they actually do move past each other and create small earthquakes.”

She added that there is a chance of aftershocks.

The Maryland Geological Survey has live earthquake data online.

‘The whole house shook’

And while magnitude of the earthquake is considered small, it startled some residents in the middle of the night. Montgomery County police told WTOP it received reports of an earthquake/tremors in Rockville, Brookeville and Olney areas.

WTOP listeners throughout the region, including those living in Northwest D.C. and Montgomery, Prince George’s and Howard counties in Maryland, reported shaking just before 1 a.m. on Tuesday.

“I’m in Kensington, Maryland, and felt/heard what seemed like an earthquake,” one listener wrote to WTOP. “Rumbling and a big boom lasting about maybe 10 seconds about 20 minutes ago.”

Another listener said they felt shaking in Darnestown.

“The whole house shook. My wife and I jumped out of bed all confused and scared not knowing what is going on,” they said. “Very scary. Windows shook.”

Paul from Olney said he felt a boom early this morning, and so did his son.

“I remember the earthquake we had a few years ago, and I was a little bit lower down in my house,” he told WTOP. “And I remember it felt a little bit different than this. This was definitely a little bit stronger.”

No injuries were reported.

Earthquakes aren’t uncommon along Maryland’s fault lines, WTOP meteorologist Chad Merrill said. A 2.0 magnitude earthquake shook parts of Sykesville in October of 2022.

“There are actually several fault lines in Maryland that are capable of triggering earthquakes,” he said.

“I was just sitting down in the chair and I felt a little bit of dizziness,” said a convenience store employee who felt the earthquake from the store he works at on Darnestown Road in North Potomac. 

He said he’s from Nepal and that he was surprised at how much he felt the earthquake on Tuesday. “I was like, ‘something is happening.’”

WTOP has reached out to the U.S. Geological Survey for additional information on the event.

WTOP’s Will Vitka, Luke Lukert and Steve Dresner contributed to this report. 

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Ivy Lyons

Ivy Lyons is a digital journalist for Since 2018, they have worked on Capitol Hill, at NBC News in Washington, and with WJLA in Washington.

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