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Does Alaska Have Earthquakes? What Visitors Should Know

Natural disasters occur worldwide. From hurricanes and tornadoes to ice storms and wildfires, the United States suffers its fair share of disasters. Unlike weather forecasts of impending danger, earthquakes are surprises, with little foreknowledge of their arrival. In parts of Alaska, they occur frequently. If you’re planning a visit to the Land of the Midnight Sun, you should know how to respond if an earthquake shakes up your travel plans. Let’s get started! 

Does Alaska Have Earthquakes? 

Alaska has many earthquakes, as it lies in a region where two tectonic plates constantly move. The Pacific Plate shifts under the North American Plate, and they meet off Alaska’s southern coast. The state lies almost exclusively on the North American Plate, but there are fault lines, like the Denali fault, that curves across the southern half of Alaska. With the Pacific Plate pushing underneath the North American Plate, friction can trigger an earthquake.

Moving at a rate of two inches per year, Alaska experiences numerous earthquakes. For instance, in 2020, scientists measured more than 49,000 seismic events in the state. During that same year, Alaska had the largest and third-largest earthquakes in the world.

How Often Do Earthquakes in Alaska Occur? 

Since 1900, Alaska has averaged a magnitude 8 or greater earthquake once every 13 years and one magnitude 7 to 8 earthquake yearly. People feel six earthquakes with a magnitude of 6 to 7 yearly. Alaskans experience approximately 45 earthquakes that are magnitude 5 to 6 on the Richter scale and 320 earthquakes with a magnitude of 4 to 5. In one month, the state has roughly 1,000 earthquakes measuring 3 to 4. Alaska has 11 percent of all the world’s recorded earthquakes.

Scenic mountain view in Alaska
Alaska’s positioning along the North American Plate causes hundreds of earthquakes a year.

What Was Alaska’s Biggest Earthquake? 

An earthquake on March 27, 1964, had a magnitude of 9.2. It was not only Alaska’s biggest earthquake, but the second-largest earthquake experts recorded in the world. It was in Prince William Sound on the southern coast of Alaska near Valdez. The shaking continued for four minutes, causing several tsunamis and landslides. Twelve people died because of the earthquake, but 119 perished due to tsunamis and landslides. The most enormous wave was near Valdez and measured 219 feet tall.

Coastal towns like Anchorage, Valdez, Seward, Whittier, and Chenega experienced the most damage. However, the destruction could have been even more overwhelming, as the population of Alaska was much lower than any other state. Anchorage was hardest hit by property destruction, as the quake annihilated several downtown blocks, but the population of the largest city in Alaska was only 100,000 at the time. Today, Anchorage is three times as large, with over 300,000 residents.

Know Before You Go: If you’re going to RV Alaska, make sure you know The Average Price Of Gas in Alaska before you hit the road.

The Great Alaska Earthquake | Disaster Documentary | Full Documentary | Documentary Central
This is a great documentary all about the great Alaska Earthquake

What Is the Safest Place to Stay in an Earthquake? 

If you are inside when an earthquake strikes in Alaska, seek shelter under a sturdy desk or table. Stay away from windows and exterior walls, and do not run outside. Get under a table for protection, then hold on until the shaking stops.

RV driving through scenic pass in Alaska
Brave the wild frontier of Alaska while RVing through the state.

What Are 4 Tips to Survive an Earthquake? 

Earthquakes are a scary phenomenon, as the land under your feet may give way, leaving you feeling like you are surfing on a wave of soil. It’s essential to know the best way to respond so you can stay safe. Here are four topics that you need to address before an earthquake occurs.

Create an Earthquake Safety Plan for Travel

Decide beforehand on a plan instructing family members what to do, how you will communicate, and where you will meet up if separated during an earthquake in Alaska. Consider emergency measures for all household members, including pets, and note the safest places in your living space to ride out an earthquake.

Man looking out at glacier
Always be prepared to possibly experience an earthquake while visiting Alaska.

Pack an Emergency Bag

Pack an emergency bag with all critical information, prescriptions, first aid items, food and water, and an emergency radio. Leave the bag in a reachable location.

Drop, Cover, and Hold on If There’s an Earthquake

Pick safe places for cover in each room of your home. Practice drop, cover, and hold drills with your family. Don’t stand in doorways or near the outer walls of a building, but get under a sturdy table or desk for protection until the shaking stops.

Earthquake Alaska
After experiencing an earthquake, be prepared for the aftershocks that will follow.

Avoid Parking Under Bridges, Signs, or Building Overhangs

For obvious reasons of collapse, don’t stand on or park under bridges or adjacent buildings with overhangs. If you must be outdoors, stand away from any construction that can fall.

Pro Tip: Unsure what’s the best way to visit Alaska? We compared going via an Alaska Cruise or Land Tour to help you make your decision.

Do Earthquakes in Alaska Have Aftershocks?

All earthquakes have aftershocks. An earthquake may stop, but the waves it formed with its initial shaking cause repercussions in the earth’s mantle that can continue for hours, days, weeks, and even months after the main quake. Often, foreshocks will precede the earthquake, and people will label aftershocks stronger in magnitude than the mainshock as the main event. This means that the mainshock will then be an aftershock.

Should I Be Worried About Earthquakes in Alaska?

Considering that there is not much anyone can do about the occurrence of Alaska earthquakes, it’s best to prepare for one. However, don’t spend too much time worrying. We have spent lots of time in Alaska and experienced a few earthquakes ourselves. Most of them are minor and will not affect your visit.

However, we recommend you go through the four tips for surviving an earthquake and put them into practice. Then enjoy your visit to one of the most majestic destinations in the world, knowing that you are ready for anything nature might throw at you.

Trying to plan the perfect Alaska vacation? Find out What’s the Best Time of Year to Visit Alaska?

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About Tom Morton

Tom, a Pacific Northwest native, is our technical genius. Born in Washington and raised in Alaska before settling in Michigan. He's the man who keeps our operation running, both figuratively and literally.

With a background in Electrical Engineering, Tom specializes in RV solar systems and lithium batteries. He made history as the first documented individual to use a Tesla battery module as an RV battery. Tom has personally assisted countless RVers with system installations and has educated thousands more through his videos and articles.

Cinematography is another of Tom's passions, showcased in his work on the Go North series. You can see his camera skills on display in The RVers TV show on Discovery Channel and PBS where he also stars as a co-host.

Tom's mechanical expertise extends beyond RVs to boats, planes, and all things mechanical. He's renowned for taking on maintenance and repair projects single-handedly and is often spotted underneath RVs, making him the technical backbone of our endeavors.

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Ruth G

Monday 17th of July 2023

In an earthquake it may be prudent to stand in a doorway

Mortons on the Move

Wednesday 2nd of August 2023

I grew up doing that with every shake!