October 8, 1974 Earthquake and Weather Remembered

8 10 2019

Dale C. S. Destin |

October 8, 1974, a clear, cool and calm Tuesday morning, Antiguans and Barbudans had a wakeup alarm of seismic proportion. At 5:50 am 45 years ago today, the region had a powerful 7.5 magnitude earthquake that shattered the day.


The October 8, 1974 quake is said to have produced the strongest shaking in several Leeward Islands since the great earthquake of February 8, 1843. It is actually the strongest ever recorded in the Eastern Caribbean, according to UWI, Mona. The 1974 quake was also three times stronger than the Haiti 7.0 magnitude quake of 2010.

A few people are said to have received minor injuries, but no fatality was reported, according to paper – Reconnaissance report of the Antigua West Indies, earthquake of October 8, 1974. The paper also indicated that “damage was confined mainly to larger and older buildings, to a petroleum refinery [West Indies Oil Refinery], and to the deep-water harbour”.

I was 5 years old back then, to young to remember much. I don’t have any memory of feeling the actual quake, but I do recall quite vividly that when the wooden grocery shop (Bascus Shop – Bennett Street, Villa) next door opened, all the goods were on the floor.

And what was the weather like? A look at the weather records of October 8, 1974 as taken at the V. C. Bird International Airport, Antigua; it was a calm night with mostly clear skies. The mean temperature was around 24 C or 75 F with a relatively cold minimum temperature of 22 C or 72 F.

At the actual time of the quake (5:50 am local time, 1050 UTC), the wind was calm with fair skies (one okta of low-level clouds and four oktas of high-level (cirrus) clouds).  The temperature was a cool 22 C or 72 F and the relative humidity was 96%.

The weather observer also noted that there was a thunderstorm (Cumulonimbus) cloud to the northeast of the Airport but no thunder was observed. Up to October 8, 1974, the rainfall for the month was 89.9 mm (3.54 inches), which is quite a lot for only 7 days. 

Summarizing the night leading up to the most destructive quake on record for the area: it was mostly clear, calm, fairly cool and dry in terms of the absence of rainfall; however, much dew would have formed as the wind was calm all night and the relative humidity in the 90’s.

Questions: What would happen if a similar quake occurred today? Are we better prepared today than we were in 1974? The UWI Seismic Unit has been cautioning that they have seen activities over the past few years similar to the lead up to the 1974 quake; are we heeding this caution?

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