John W. Kidd Memorial Seismological Observatory
Department of Geological Sciences
University of Texas at El Paso

Meteorites in El Paso

Station Locations for Kidd Seismic Observatory

John W. Kidd

Earthquakes in the El Paso Area

Although earthquakes are not as common in the El Paso area as they are in California, El Pasoans have felt a few notable earthquakes. On May 3, 1887 a major earthquake (magnitude 7.2) occurred near Bavispe, Sonora, Mexico. Surface faulting during the earthquake extended to within 5 miles of Douglas, Arizona. The surface fault was over 30 miles long with an average vertical displacement of 9 feet. Everyone on El Paso felt this earthquake. Buildings shook, the doors of large safes swung open, plaster fell from walls and ceilings, cracks formed in the Central High School and downtown buildings, several buildings were damaged so badly they had to be condemned, clocks stopped, and many people were so frightened they ran outdoors or even jumped out of windows. All from an earthquake over 200 miles from El Paso!

The Sonoran earthquake is thought to be a "typical" large earthquake that may be expected to occur along other faults throughout the southwest. A large fault located at the base of the east side of the Franklin Mountains shows evidence of about 9 feet of vertical movement during the last earthquake that occurred along it. It appears this earthquake occurred about 5,000 years ago. Unfortunately, we do not know how long a time interval there is between earthquakes along the fault. To the north, a fault located along the east side of the Organ Mountains has moved twice in the last 5,000 years. In fact there are many faults within 200 miles of El Paso that appear to have moved with the last 20,000 years, so some day El Pasoans are sure to feel another earthquake, hopefully not one in their own backyard.

The other larger earthquake that was felt severely in El Paso was the August 16, 1931, Valentine earthquake (magnitude 6.5) occurring about 100 miles southeast of El Paso. This is the largest earthquake to have occurred in Texas in historic time. No ground breakage was observed, but careful surveying of elevations along a highway years later suggests there may have been 8 inches of movement at depth along a fault. Buildings in the town of Valentine suffered severe damage. Although the earthquake was located closer to El Paso that the 1887 earthquake, it was not felt as severely. In El Paso chairs moved, lights swayed, and some people left buildings. There were no reports of damage to buildings.

Even the effects of the 1985 Mexico City earthquake were observed in El Paso. Several people reported losing water from swimming pools or cracking of swimming pools after the earthquake.

On average, a felt earthquake in the magnitude 3.0 to 4.0 range occurs near El Paso every 10 years. The last earthquake to be felt in El Paso occurred on December 8, 1972 (magnitude 3.0) near Newman on the Texas-New Mexico border. Although we do not feel earthquakes frequently in El Paso, the seismic observatory on the UTEP campus records about one local earthquake every month.

Tectonics of West Texas
Faults of West Texas
East Franklin Mountain Fault

Earthquake Research at UTEP:
Dr. Diane Doser Professor
Wesley Brown Graduate Student
Mark Dober Graduate Student
Austin Holland Graduate Student
Monique Velasquez Graduate Student
North Africa Lithospheric Database - Seismology

Earthquake Information:
NEIC near-real-time Earthquake Bulletin
Frequently Asked Questions about Earthquakes UT-Austin
General Earthquake Information NEIC (excellent source for all earthquake information!)
Map of plate boundaries
Earthquake Waves
Earthquake Photos

More Earthquake Information and links

Department of Geological Sciences
University of Texas at El Paso
El Paso, Texas 79968

This page was created by Mark Dober.
last updated 2-2-99
for further information contact: Dr. Diane Doser

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