To some, it sounded like a train derailing, a snowplow taking out a car, a plane crash, a sonic boom.
To dogs, it was clearly something to panic about.
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But the U.S. Geological Survey said what woke people well before dawn Wednesday was a mild, 3.8-magnitude earthquake whose epicenter was about three miles beneath a farm field a short distance south of Pingree Grove, near Route 20 and Switzer Road in western Kane County.
Geologists said the quake was caused by a previously unknown fault line that has not generated any shocks since they started keeping track 150 years ago.
"It teaches us to expect the unexpected," said Philip Carpenter, a geologist at Northern Illinois University. "I never would have expected an earthquake in this area."
It started rumbling at 3:59 a.m. Wednesday and lasted just seven seconds.
The quake is not believed to have caused any serious damage beyond items shaken off shelves. It was felt throughout the suburbs and well beyond.
The location of the earthquake came as a surprise to Elgin Parks and Recreation Director Randy Reopelle, who learned Wednesday the quake that roused him and his wife was centered beneath a city-owned, 224-acre parcel that is slated for a regional park.
"I guess we'll have to deal with it," Reopelle said of the newly discovered fault line. "It can't be any deeper or wider than the creeks that are out there."
Carpenter said geologists are monitoring seismic activity in the area but that it is not typical for northern Illinois quakes to have aftershocks.
The big earthquake that hit Haiti on Jan. 12 registered 7.0 on the Richter scale, releasing about 30,000 times as much energy as the quake felt Wednesday morning.
To compare a 3.8 quake to others, multiply each full point on the Richter scale by 31, according to the Geological Survey.
For northern Illinois, Wednesday's earthquake was more of a conversation starter than a disaster.
Kountry Kennels Pet Resort and Spa sits about 50 yards from the quake's epicenter.
Just before 4 a.m., kennel manager Jerid Schmidt was preparing meals for the 60 to 80 dogs staying there. They were due to eat at 5 a.m.
Two minutes before the earthquake struck, the dogs started barking, whining and howling, he said.
Schmidt said he knew something was wrong.
"When I first heard the dogs barking, I thought somebody else was in the building, so I looked around for another person and I didn't see anybody," he said. "And then the earthquake hit. You could hear the windows shaking. It was like someone was pounding on them."
At that point, the dogs got even more agitated. A few even jumped on the front door in an attempt to escape. Schmidt said he spent a few minutes calming the dogs down.
During a typical thunderstorm, only a few of the dogs get spooked, he said. But they were all riled up during the earthquake.
"Everyone seemed to know that the earthquake was coming," he said.
Pingree Grove Village President Wyman "Clint" Carey said the earthquake rattled his house and woke him out of a sound sleep.
When it hit, he initially thought it was a train derailment, but he didn't see anything of the sort when he looked out the window.
He soon figured out what had happened after going online and talking to other residents who felt the same thing.
As far as Carey knows, there has been no reported damage in the village. He says he is more concerned with the 12 inches of snow.
He said he also feels uncomfortable about the fresh media attention his town is now getting.
"I feel weird about it after what happened in Haiti," he said as television crews pulled up in front of his house. "None of our houses got knocked down. After this quick news thing goes away ... maybe they'll pick up the phone and make another donation (to Haiti)."
Bob Gehrke's property sits adjacent to the epicenter of the quake.
"We definitely were jolted out of bed," Gehrke said. "My daughter Carolyn said it felt as if the floor was moving. I originally thought that a truck had run off the road, but then my wife, Beth, and I put two and two together and figured it was a quake. It really sounded as if a lightning bolt had just hit nearby."
Diane Krachmiletz, a resident of Pingree Grove, said before the quake her three dogs jumped off the bed and kept whining. She thought they wanted to go outside.
She said they're always asleep in the middle of the night, but two minutes before it hit, the dogs began barking at nothing in particular.
"I thought a semi hit the house," she said.
Custodian Ray Trevino got to Country Trails Elementary School in Elgin early Wednesday to handle the snow.
"I was snow-blowing at 4 a.m." Trevino said. "I did not feel it at all, but the quake set the alarm off and the police came." The school is less than a mile from what is being reported as the center of the quake.
Linda Hildreth had an altogether different experience.
"I thought that it was a snowplow hitting my car, but then there was no crunch," the DeKalb resident said. "It definitely woke me, and the house shook for nearly 30 seconds afterward."
At Country Donuts in Elgin, two miles from the epicenter, the quake is all people were talking about.
Owner Jennifer Salter, a Plato resident, said 500 patrons came through in the morning and all had been buzzing about the quake.
"It's something to talk about besides the weather," Salter said. "That's a nice change for February."
For fun, she's even offered an earthquake special Wednesday. She got her inspiration from several drive-through customers who jokingly asked whether one existed.
"Mention an earthquake and get a free doughnut," Salter said.
Brett Lind lives in Plato Center, between Elgin and Sycamore.
"I woke up to my bed shaking for several seconds around 4 a.m., while the items on my night stand continued to rattle," he said. "I laid there in bed wondering what it could have been. An earthquake seemed unlikely but did cross my mind. I woke up at 6 a.m. to watch the news to find that it was an earthquake. The Midwest is unpredictable!"
The earthquake didn't faze everyone.
"I didn't think much of it," said Lynn Harris of Hampshire. "I wanted a snow day today but instead we had an earthquake. It definitely woke me."
• Daily Herald staff writers Jameel Naqvi and Lee Filas contributed to this report.
From our visitors
All comments are unedited.
We live in Pingree Grove. I never expected an earthquake to hit so close to home. My husband and I were abruptly awoken and I thought our home was going to explode. We felt the shaking and it was over seconds later. Strangest feeling ever!
Nick and Lisa Laterza
Felt the earthquake here in Sycamore! I was actually awake and had just put my son back to sleep in his crib. 4AM on the dot. Lasted about 10 seconds.....felt like an explosion some distance away then shook he house side to side (felt like east west movement).
Right before the quake (1 minute or so) my baby monitor was making some weird static....never heard that type of static before. Freaked me out and there was no more laying down for me...I'm WIDE awake today!
I woke my husband at 4:00 am (exactly) because I felt the house shudder. As if something hit the house and the insides shook. When I woke my husband, he rolled over and said, "it's just a snow plow". I found out that it was an earthquake from the news at 7am. So cool!
I live in Huntley the town right next to Gilberts where they now say the quake hit. I woke up out of coma to what sounded like an airplane hitting the house. It was so loud and the entire house was shaking. After checking around the structure of the house I checked outside to see what happened. The sky was very dark and creepy looking. Then I was wondering if a bomb had exploded. It was like something I have never experienced before.
I was just about to leave the house for work was standing in the kitchen when I heard 2 quick very loud rapid thuds and the house vibrated. My first thought was an explosion very nearby or perhaps the furnace or even a tree falling against the house. Investigated and found nothing. Heard the breaking news on radio a little while later.
When the earthquake stuck about 4am this morning it shook my bed and rattled the windows, at my St. Charles home, waking up my wife and I along with our dog but not my two young sons. My first thought was that the shaking was from an earthquake, my second thought was that it was a plane crash, since I live near one of the flight patterns into the DuPage County airport, but since I did not hear any loud noise during the skaing, I concluded it was an earthquake. Unlike other reports my dog did not preemptively react to the earthquake.
We felt it in Belvidere, Illinois. I was first woke up by the sound of things rattling in the house. Then the entire house began to shake. We also felt and experienced the one that occurred in 2008, so I knew exactly what it was. It's kind of unnerving to be woke up by something like that, because living where we do, an earthquake is not the first thing that comes to mind. Thank goodness it only lasted a couple of minutes!
According the USGS website the maps are showing that the town of Elburn felt this quake well the town was in the middle of the smaller map that shows who felt it the most. I live in Elburn and there as nothing like it. It was scary. Some things were falling off shelves and my computer desk. As I said this morning on the news it was a rude awakening and the house didnt just shake,it felt like it was swaying in the wind a lot. It lasted about 10 seconds and I thought I was dreaming until I realized everyone in the house wok up,my daughter was scared and the lights in all the houses in the neighborhood were going on. By 4:10 I was on the USGS website and it had confirmed the earthquake already. No injuries but although the quake was now just about 14 miles north of me, the south of the epicenter is who felt it the most and I was in the middle of it. It was scary for a bit there.
I live in Plato Center, in between Elgin and Sycamore. I woke up to my bed shaking for several seconds around 4:00am, while the items on my night stand continued to rattle. I laid there in bed wondering what it could have been. An earthquake seemed unlikely but did cross my mind. I woke up at 6:00am to watch the news to find that it was an earthquake. The Midwest is unpredictable!
I live about 1.5 miles from the epicenter. At 4 this morning my wife was already up. She thought a tree fell on the house and came to wake me but I was already awake by the sounds. I thought an airplane crashed in the backyard. There was a large rumbling that lasted 3-5 seconds and the residule sounded like the aftermath of a sonic boom. My dog didn't flinch.
I live in Cary, IL, on the Algonquin border, approximately 50 NW of Chicago. I felt it alright! The bed was shaking like jello. The entire house was shaking. It was shorter than the last one we had in 2008, but stronger.
My bed shook very hard in Carol Stream (Luxembourg Ct) at exactly 3:59 a.m.
The earthquake was very noticeable in West Chicago as our entire house shook. We sleep in a waterbed, which should absorb and disperse most of the shaking, but even with that on our side, it still jolted us awake immediately. No pictures fell off the walls, but everything placed on a horizontal surface rattled and nearly tipped over. I've experienced several earthquakes while visiting southern California, so I knew immediately what was happening.
Strangely, we live in Hoffman Estates and we did feel the shaking. Our dog was whining all night. Maybe she knew something was going on before we did.
It awakened our entire family but because we were sleeping we didn't know what occurred. I went on line to check your paper and what I thought had happened, was confirmed.
Blessings, The Crums
I live in the Dana Point Condominiums in Arlington Heights. I haven't been sleeping well and was up at my computer this morning. At about 3:59 a.m., I heard a rather small noise that sounded like it might be a snow plow hitting something outside. Then, about 5 seconds, later, the entire building shook as though a large truck or possible a small aircraft had struck the building. This shake was very noticeable but momentary and did not impact electricity or my computer.
Afterwards, I didn't hear anything else (emergency vehicles, etc.) so I assumed nothing terrible had happened (I have never felt an earthquake before and the tremor was quite short.). I dismissed it - until I read the Herald online this morning, that is.
John F. King
I live very near Troy Grove, IL., about 50 mi. southwest of Sycamore, and felt the quake strongly, although it did not knock anything off the walls. The bed shook, and the whole house vibrated.
I live in Elgin right by Randall Rd and Big Timber. I suddenly woke up to a rumbling noise and the bed moved a little. I was so scared because I thought they might have been an explosion at someone's house. My husband and I looked out the window but didn't see anything. My husband jokingly said it probably was an earthquake and to our surprise we watched the news and yes it was. Very scary.
I woke up around 10 minutes to 4 and was sitting on my sofa in the living room, watching the news looking for information on the snow storm and I felt a rumble and it felt like someone was pushing my sofa towards the window. I looked around to see if someone might be in my apartment, but no one was there. A few minutes later, it was on the news. Channel 9 news to be exact. The newscaster, Val asked us if we felt the earthquake. Well, that answered the rumble, and someone pushing the sofa. The rumble sounded like a train was coming. I live in Lake Zurich.
My little dog Teddy was whining all night and I got up twice to take him out. He started whining again not even 3 minutes after I had gone back to bed from taking him out. I asked my husband to please take him out again and in my sleepy daze I thought that my husband was stomping down the stairs so hard that he was making the bed and the walls shake (mind you, he's tall, but not big enough to be able to shake anything by stomping down the stairs).
I mentally reminded myself to tell him that shaking the bed and the walls while he is going down stairs wasn't necessary. When I got to work this morning a co-worker asked if I felt the quake and I replied. "Actually, I did! I was so sleepy that it never registered in my mind that the bed shaking and wall rattling was from an earthquake! That certainly explains why Teddy was crying all night!
Claudia Carabajal Cisneros