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Explaining the science behind frost quakes

Meteorologist Balint Szalavari breaks down the science behind a winter weather phenomenon known as frost quakes

Posted: Jan. 29, 2019 6:22 PM

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) – With Monday’s precipitation followed by a rapid drop in temperatures, people around the region may start hearing strange “booms” and popping noises over the next few days. This phenomenon is known as a cryoseism, or frost quake. According to frostquake.org, “Frost quakes occur when extremely cold temperatures lead to rapid freezing in the ground after it has been saturated,”.

There are two main ingredients needed for frost quakes to occur - moisture and extreme cold.

Monday’s rain and snow supplied the moisture element. With temperatures above the freezing point, some of the snow on the ground also melted, allowing for extra moisture to be absorbed by the ground.

As temperatures began to drop below the freezing point, the absorbed water began to freeze.

As water freezes, it expands outward. This creates more stress and more stress as more water freezes. After a certain point, the ice breaks or cracks creating these "booms". With temperatures still falling, the freezing effect will be enhanced.

These frost quakes are most commonly heard at night when there is less noise. They also tend to occur more at night when temperatures are at their lowest. Frost quakes are not known to cause injuries or damage.

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