Why Earthquake Tweets Reached You Before the Earthquake Did

Illustration for article titled Why Earthquake Tweets Reached You Before the Earthquake Did

If you live in New York and were on Twitter about an hour ago, something like this probably happened to you: you read a tweet about an earthquake from someone in DC. Then, moments later, you felt it. Here's why.

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Basically, as XKCD explained some time back, the fiber signals that usher your beeps and bops over the internet move at a much, much faster rate than seismic waves. Which means that your quake-related texts, tweets, and emails can sprint to their targets faster than the quake itself, assuming your missives are traveling more than 100km.

Whether that gives you enough time to find the nearest shelter, well, that depends on how long you take to RT. [xkcd via @Baratunde]

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DISCUSSION

When we had the 7.2 earthquake last easter I was sending a text to update my status on FB and advise family on the east coast while I was bracing my aquarium during the shaking. Knew well and good the cell networks and internet as a whole would be down within seconds either from the quake itself or everyone calling their entire contact list to see if they felt it (gee, ya THINK?). About 10 minutes later my internet started working somewhat and my family on the east coast could call me, but I still couldn't get out.