On the morning of December 3rd, 1990, millions of Americans woke up believing that an earthquake was going to flatten the Midwest. Earlier that year, famed climatologist and earthquake prophet Iben Browning predicted that a major tremor would strike the New Madrid Fault in southeast Missouri on that day, devastating seven states, killing thousands, and displacing tens of millions of people. Later, when a reputable seismologist at Southeast Missouri State University endorsed Browning’s claims, people throughout the region – and the national news media – began to take notice. The panic that followed during the fall of 1990 created the largest episode of public hysteria since Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds Broadcast in 1938.
This documentary will tell the story behind the prediction, the fear it caused, and its lasting impact on the Midwest. It will examine why Browning expressed so much concern and why his subsequent claims were believed and acted upon by millions of people. It will follow the stories of several people who were compelled - or forced - to react to Browning's claims, and explore the media circus it created. Finally, this film asks a vital question that has not been successfully answered since: what does our response to Browning’s prediction say about pseudo-science and our own willingness to believe it? And what, if anything, can people today learn from this?
A Documentary about the Largest Earthquake
that Never Happened