Residents in Chicago recorded hearing several frost quakes last week, known in scientific circles as a cryoseism. These sudden loud booms are often mistaken for earthquakes due to the combination of the sound and the movement that it triggers.
What is a frost quake and why do these frost quakes happen during cold weather? Read on for more about this unique weather phenomenon.
Diving Into the Science of a Cryoseism
A frost quake is a unique weather occurrence that happens during times of extreme cold temperatures. These cryoseism events have been recorded in the U.S. since the early 1800s even before people understood why they were happening. The word "cryo" comes from an ancient Greek word that translates to icy cold while the word "seism" translates to a violent storm.
Scientists explain that a frost quake happens when ground that is overly saturated quickly freezes shortly after a time period of mild weather. The movement of water expanding when it freezes works to push apart the soil and rocks. A rapid expansion of the ground in turn triggers the breaking apart of the earth, leading to the sound boom and the sensation that is reminiscent of an actual earthquake.
While they may sound and feel similar, a frost quake is far removed from the natural movement of the earth's tectonic plates. Cryoseismic events are most likely to happen in the central and northern Plains and into the northeastern corner of the country, however, these quakes can occur at any spot in the U.S. given the right conditions.
The reason why they are most commonly reported in the northern U.S. is simply due to the propensity of this region to experience dramatic temperature swings during the winter months.