Frost quakes: How the Lower 48 deep freeze is causing tiny explosions in the ground
It seems the recent plunge of the polar vortex is bringing everything Alaska to the Lower 48: subzero temperatures, brutal wind, face-biting wind chill and even quakes. That's right, some residents of states with typically milder seismic activity are experiencing a rare phenomenon known as frost quakes, or cryoseisms.
Cryoseisms are a sometimes alarming effect of a major drop in temperatures. People who experience them describe hearing loud snaps or pops, even the sound of an explosion coming from the ground. While the noise can be heard from afar, the rumble in the ground is something that isn't typically felt. This is because the release of energy is on a much smaller scale than a typical earthquake and has a much different forcing mechanism.
Frost quakes don't happen everywhere and take the right conditions to occur. Typically, those conditions are in areas that don't experience a deep freeze in the clutches of winter, and then get a deep freeze very quickly. For a many residents of the Lower 48, conditions this week were just right to cause cryoseisms.
A frost quake occurs when liquid water in the ground freezes rapidly. The rapid expansion of freezing water causes the ground to crack. It's very similar to the cracks in ice cubes when pouring water over a glass full, but on a much larger scale. The cracks are loud enough to be heard by nearby people, often causing alarm. While the noise might be scary, that's about the worst of it. If you hear one, there's no need to panic.
The cold air also caused a pretty awesome scene over the warmer water of Lake Michigan. The air is so cold that water on the surface is instantly condenses as it evaporates, a phenomenon known as sea smoke. Check out this video from my friend and weather chaser, Brandon Clement.
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