Tuesday, as all eyes were on the conflict in Libya, social media and cable news coverage quickly became inundated with something completely unexpected. A 5.8-magnitude earthquake hit about 80 miles southwest of Washington, D.C., just before 2 p.m. eastern time.
It seems almost immediately, people throughout the east coast region and even further away were posting their reactions to the unusual event. But at the nation's Capitol, feelings of fear were reported most.
Josh Klapow, Ph.D., a University of Alabama at Birmingham clinical psychologist, told LiveScience in an interview that in post-9/11 times, this can be expected.
"If you're in D.C. it the Senate, if you feel a large jolt and earthquakes are not common, a common perception would be, 'Oh, it's something else, it's a bomb,'" Klapow told LiveScience senior writer Stephanie Pappas.
Klapow went on to explain that both the environment and the event set the stage for reactions, but people's minds, cognitions and thoughts that shape how someone interprets what is going on.
Interpreting is exactly what UAB geologist Scott Brande, Ph.D., is doing following all of the significant earthquake events in recent times. From the 7.0 earthquake that demolished Haiti in January 2010, to both last year's and this year's quakes in New Zealand, and finally the 8.9-magnitude earthquake that hit off the coast of Japan in March 2011, it seems they are happening more often.
Brande has studied the amounts of earthquakes that occurred across the world from the past hundreds of years. He says a succession of earthquakes in a year's time does not represent a trend of ongoing larger events.
"We may get three or four in one year, but we might not have another one for three or four years after that," Brande explains.
But wait, before the East Coast has a chance to reconcile an earthquake, here comes a Hurricane Irene. Sit down and buckle up. Keep hands and arms inside the ride at all times.