The “Temblor” Controversy

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Is “temblor” the correct word to use when describing a seismic event? As it turns out, several of my bass playing brethren over at Talk Bass are also geologists, and they say no.

In 1978, when I was about 13, my family moved from Texas to California. When I heard a news reporter saying the word “temblor” I thought at first he meant to say “tremor” and just make an on-air mistake. When I heard it repeated over the years, being a California transplant, I just figured that’s what they call Earthquakes here.

I moved from Dallas to Lemoore California (yeah, I know…. where?). Having experienced a few tornadoes, I was ready to experience my next natural disaster, an Earthquake! I was bummed because they said we never get Earthquakes in the San Joaquin Valley. Seven months later, while in 8th grade algebra class, we were sitting in the portable classroom (why do they call it a “portable”, they never move them) taking a quiz or something, when the girl behind me started to shake my desk…. Except it couldn’t have been the girl behind me, because (a) she was absent that day, and (b) everyone else started looking around too wondering what was going on. Then, someone pointed to the hanging retractable screen that was swaying nicely. “Earthquake” someone yelled.

Some panicked and got scared.


My thought….. “Oh My God…. This is Soooo COOL!!!!”

It seemed no one ever mentioned that if the quake was big, you could feel it a long distance away. This quake was centered in the Mammoth Lakes region, and would be the start of a swarm of quakes, the largest being a 7.2 a year or so later.

After that, I was hooked. As long as nothing falls on me, I love the things.

The closest I’ve been to the epicenter of a large quake was the 6.5 quake in 83, centered in Coalinga, a town just 40 miles from Lemoore. I was looking under my mom’s car, trying to pinpoint the source of the oil leak, when the car started shaking a bit. I thought my mom was playing a joke, but when I saw she was standing several feet away, I scooted out from under the Maxima. I probably never moved so fast! Man, that was a big quake. You could see the streets rolling. By that time I had done a lot of reading on the mechanics of quakes, and could feel the difference between the P wave and the S wave. What I didn’t know was that this quake would become an important one seismologically because it confirmed the existence of blind-thrust faults was much more prevalent in California than previously recognized.

Anyway, I loved Earthquakes so much I went back to college in 98 to study seismology. The bummer is that I couldn’t handle the calculus, so now I’m a geology school drop-out. Oh, and I also don’t recall ever hearing a professor using the term “temblor”.

PS. Do I ever get scared during an earthquake? During one aftershock of the Coalinga quake, a 4.9’er, we were in the high school auditorium rehearsing a play. With all the heavy stage lighting banging away up in the fly space, yeah, that was scary. And yes, I flew out of that building like there was no tomorrow.

PPS. Yes, my San Diego guitarists did e-mail me last night to rub it in about the latest Ocotillo aftershock, which he felt and I didn’t. Man, I have to get out of Fresno. I miss all the fun!

2 Comments to “The “Temblor” Controversy”

  1. By Glen kirby, July 7, 2019 @ 11:54 pm

    I was reading a heading of an article about recent earthquakes in California and was surprised to see the word ‘tremblors’ also. I really love California and would gladly live there if could afford it. I did temp work at Vandenburg a few times prior to retirement age and while there I desired to see a sizemometer. The locals told me the whereabouts of one located Northward about 300 miles etc. They drew me a sketch and 4 hours later I arrived just to discover it was removed for service. I was so tired from the dry I decided to just wait until a ‘tremblor’ came to me and not try chasing one just for the experience. (lol) On another working trip at VBAFB while flying back to Florida via LAX my supervisor was on the flight just behind us (our plane had just cleared the LA area when a quake hit the area which shut down LAX overnight. I just barely missed that one. I’m retired in Tennessee now still waiting for a ‘tremblor’. Lol

  • Temblor, like or not its a thing. | Dr. Geophysics' Weblog — July 22, 2016 @ 8:15 pm

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