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Magnitude 4.4 earthquake shakes West Yellowstone

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By Amanda Eggert EBS Senior Editor

BIG SKY – The largest earthquake recorded in or near Yellowstone National Park since 2014 rattled West Yellowstone residents at 6:48 p.m. last night.

The epicenter of the earthquake was inside the park boundary, approximately 8 miles north of West Yellowstone, according to a statement released by the U.S. Geological Survey. The quake struck just north of Gneiss Creek at a depth of 5.8 miles.

Jake Lowenstern, a research geologist with the USGS and the lead scientist of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, said there’s been an increase in seismic activity in Yellowstone National Park since Monday.

“These swarms are not terribly uncommon,” said Lowenstern, adding that about 300 seismic events, almost all of them too small too feel, have been recorded since June 12. “Overall, this is kind of normal behavior for Yellowstone if you look at the last 20 years.”

Lowenstern said a magnitude-4.5 quake would be noticeable to people near the epicenter. “You might have a few dishes rattling [and] see some hanging lights moving back and forth. It’s really not a big enough earthquake to do any real damage, but it’s easily felt.”

West Yellowstone Chamber of Commerce Marketing Director Wendy Swenson said she felt the earthquake from her home 3 to 4 miles west of the epicenter. “I thought at first that someone hit the house and then I thought maybe it’s raining or hailing really hard,” she said. “Then things started to rattle and a few things came off the shelf and I was like ‘Yep, that was an earthquake.’”

Further east, Yellowstone National Park’s geologist Jeff Hungerford said he felt it from his location in Mammoth, Wyoming, although other people in the area he’s spoken with didn’t. “It was just a settling of the building that I recognized as an earthquake,” he said. “It was less than a second [long].”

Hungerford said the quakes happened outside of the park’s caldera—the sunken crater that was created when the Yellowstone supervolcano last erupted 640,000 years ago—and these types of swarms account for roughly 50 percent of the park’s seismic activity. “It’s a dynamic system. We’re going to see earthquake swarms every year.”

Park spokesperson Morgan Warthin said she hasn’t received any report of rockfalls or other natural damage accompanying the quake, although a couple of people have called out of concern for the park’s grizzly bears.

“It’s something that’s natural and [earthquakes] have been happening for thousands of years and wildlife have experienced them for thousands of years as well,” she told those concerned callers.

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