1892 Vacaville–Winters earthquakes

1892 Vacaville–Winters earthquakes
Virginia City
Date April 19, 1892 (1892-04-19)
Magnitude 6.4 MLa [1]
Epicenter 38°24′N 122°00′W / 38.4°N 122°W / 38.4; -122Coordinates: 38°24′N 122°00′W / 38.4°N 122°W / 38.4; -122 [1]
Total damage $225,000–250,000 [1][2]
Max. intensity IX (Violent) [3]
Aftershocks 6.2 MLa April 21 [1]
Casualties 1 dead [1]

The 1892 Vacaville–Winters earthquakes occurred in northern California as a large doublet on April 19 and April 21. Measured on a seismic scale that is based on an isoseismal map or the event's felt area, the 6.4 MLa and 6.2 MLa events were assigned a maximum Mercalli intensity of IX (Violent), and affected the North Bay and Central Valley areas. While the total damage was estimated at between $225,000–250,000, one person was killed, but there are no reports on how many people may have been injured. No surface faulting was observed as a result of either strong shocks.

Tectonic setting

The primary tectonic feature of the region is the strike-slip San Andreas system of faults. From west to east, the Hayward–Rogers Creek Fault Zone and the Concord–Green Valley Faults are the closest to Vacaville and Winters. While the Hayward and Rogers Creek Faults have been given a 32% chance of a M6.7 or greater shock before 2030, the Concord and Green Valley Faults have been assigned a lower probability of 6% each.[4]

Vacaville and Winters both lie to the east of these faults along the low foothills. Multiple investigators have remarked on the potential for blind thrust earthquakes in this area. Wong and Ely specifically labelled it the Coast Range–Sierran Block Boundary Zone and stated that the 1983 Coalinga earthquake (a blind thrust event) occurred within the zone.[5]


Each large shock had a high intensity and was felt over roughly the same geographical area. The area over which the initial shock was felt with an intensity of VIII (Severe) was about 1,100 km2 and the area for the second shock was about 890 km2. The furthest extent that they were felt was from Redding in the north to Salinas and Fresno in the south and to Virginia City, Nevada in the east.[1][3]

Investigators completed a study of the area that included a three dimensional crustal velocity model. Proprietary seismic reflection data were also scrutinized in an attempt to establish a source for the sequence. Observations of the range front and modelling of strong ground motions led to the presentation of a 17 km (11 mi) rupture on the west-dipping Gordon Valley blind thrust fault that could have produced the felt intensities that were specific to the April 19 event.[5]


The shocks affected Solano and Yolo Counties along the border of the Sacramento Valley. In the north, the communities of Espart and Capay both experienced Mercalli intensities of VIII (Severe) and in the south, Vacaville and Fairfield both experienced the same. Work by seismologist T. Toppozada that was published in a 1981 report further clarified that Vacaville was at the center of the destruction. Damage also occurred at Dixon as well as the area of the highest reported intensity of IX (Violent), midway between Winters and Vacaville, at Allendale. There, some buildings were damaged, some collapsed, and mile-long fissures were observed.[6]

These widespread and north-trending cracks were very narrow, from one to three inches in width. Despite these surface cracks and other offset drainages and other lineaments, no surface faulting occurred. This was confirmed by trench excavations where these features were found. Other ground effects occurred though. Reports of rockslides and dislodged boulders made their into the newspapers, but the most common type of damage were the many chimneys that were thrown down.[6]


An isoseismal map for the April 19 event shows an asymmetrical and slightly elongated pattern on the north–south axis. There are high intensities east of the Napa–Solano county border. No locations in Napa county reached any higher than intensity VI (Strong), indicating that the shock originated east of the Vaca Mountains. The April 21 event differed slightly, in that the strongest effects were shifted slightly to the northwest.[6]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Stover, C. W.; Coffman, J. L. (1993), Seismicity of the United States, 1568–1989 (Revised), U.S. Geological Survey professional paper 1527, United States Government Printing Office, pp. 74, 111, 112
  2. National Geophysical Data Center / World Data Service (NGDC/WDS), Significant Earthquake Database, National Geophysical Data Center, NOAA, doi:10.7289/V5TD9V7K
  3. 1 2 Toppozada, T. R.; Real, C. R. (1981), Preparation of isoseismal maps and summaries of reported effects for pre-1900 California earthquakes, Open-File Report 81-262, United States Geological Survey, pp. 107, 108, 164
  4. Yeats, R. (2012), Active Faults of the World, Cambridge University Press, pp. 89–94, ISBN 978-0521190855
  5. 1 2 O'Connell, R. H.; Unruh, J. R.; Block, L. V. (2001), "Source Characterization and Ground-Motion Modeling of the 1892 Vacaville–Winters Earthquake Sequence, California", Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America, Seismological Society of America, 91 (6): 1471, 1473, 1495, doi:10.1785/0120000267
  6. 1 2 3 Bennett, J. H. (1987), "Vacaville–Winters earthquakes . . . 1892: Solano and Yolo counties" (PDF), California Geology, California Department of Conservation, 40 (4): 75–82
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