Little Bits of History

Quake Lake

Posted in History by patriciahysell on August 26, 2011

Somehow this article got lost in the shuffle and is published out of order. I am sorry. – PH

Quake Lake

Quake Lake

August 17, 1959: Quake Lake is formed. At 11:37 PM a 7.5 magnitude earthquake struck Hebgen Lake, Montana. The quake was felt over a 454,000 square mile area. Earthquakes in the 7.0-7.9 magnitude range occur less frequently than smaller quakes, but still happen about 18 times per year. Yellowstone is North America’s largest earthquake system and is on the Wyoming and Montana border. The earth’s crust is being stretched across the Basin and Range Province at the western edge of the central US. As the crust stretched apart, huge blocks of rock measuring as much as 15 miles long crashed into the breach.

The quake also caused an 80 million ton landslide along the steep south side of the Madison River Canyon. As the earth, rock, and trees slid down at speeds reaching 100 mph, 28 campers were also swept to their deaths. Fault scarps which show the relative movement along the fault line measured up to 20 feet and Hebgen Lake dropped the same relative distance. A 32,000 acre area of land dropped 10 feet.

The upstream fault forced water at Hebgen Lake over a dam that was constructed in 1914. The concrete core and rock filled dam was damaged but held. In one of the largest mobilizations, the US Army Corps of Engineers were rushed to Montana to repair the dam and provide a spillway for the now trapped waters forming a new lake.

With no way for the rapidly rising waters to escape, Quake Lake was formed. The lake is 190 feet deep and 6 miles long. It was formed within a month from the trapped waters. By September 10 the Engineers had created a 250 feet wide and 14 feet deep channel for water to escape and ease pressure on the endangered dam. The channel was deepened to 54 feet by October 17.

“Which would you rather have, a bursting planet or an earthquake here and there?” – John Joseph Lynch

“I don’t want to deal with any more hurricanes. I’d rather take an earthquake or a tornado.” – William Phillips

“An earthquake achieves what the law promises but does not in practice maintain – the equality of all men.” – Ignazio Silone

“It takes an earthquake to remind us that we walk on the crust of an unfinished planet.” – Charles Kuralt

Also on this day:
Good Grief – In 2002, the Charles M. Schultz Museum and Research Center opens.
The Eagle Has Landed – In 1978, the first successful crossing of the Atlantic in a balloon successfully concluded.

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