The biggest and the worstest

According to the USGS, the epicentre of yesterday's earthquake was about 10 miles east of the weather center, in the middle of Lake Thunderbird.  At a "moderate" magnitude of 4.3 (5.1 according the Oklahoma Geological Survey), it's not in the category of the monster earthquakes they get in Alaska or California.  Still, it felt like you were standing in an underground station while an express train rumbled through.

The kids were excited (the earthquake was around 9am local time) and in the evening, they were talking about everything they'd learned about earthquakes, faults, depth, population impacts, etc. It was heartening to see that both their teachers had discarded regular activity and converted the entire morning into a research session on earthquakes. Kudos to Norman public schools and to the American education system --  this sort of flexibility would not have even occurred to the teachers in the African and Indian schools that I attended.

It was also interesting that the kids had each picked up on a different aspect of "biggest".  S1, our 9-year-old boy, reported that Alaska had had the biggest earthquake because it had a magnitude of 9.2.  He was aware that this was only the biggest in the United States, but didn't know that the largest earthquake in the world was in Chile. Did you say "typically American?".  Well, I suppose. He's less interested in the world than I am, that's for sure.

Meanwhile, S2, our 6-year old girl, was more globally aware.  The "worstest" earthquake, she insisted, was in China.  It was in the 1500s and killed 800,000 people, so it was by far the deadliest (for comparison: the one in Haiti last year led to 200,000 deaths).  And of course, that was when the world had far fewer people than now.

I found it interesting that S1 focused on magnitude while S2 focused on population impact. This is something that we constantly talk about with respect to weather forecasting.  Meteorologists and engineers focus on getting forecasts more timely and more accurate while social scientists we talk to tell us that the real problem is one of getting the general public to understand and mitigate weather impacts.

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