What Are “frosty Earthquakes”?

Today, temperatures in the United States have plummeted, with wind gusts reaching 40, 50, and even 60 degrees below zero in parts of the Midwest — and that’s Fahrenheit . As if frozen pipes and frostbite weren’t dangerous enough, some people are learning about one of the rarer and more dire side effects of ultracold weather: cryoseism, or “frost earthquakes.”

Cryoseism occurs when a very sudden drop in temperature from above zero to sub-zero occurs on a piece of land that has been saturated with water. This sudden change in temperature causes groundwater to freeze – and therefore expand – so suddenly that its environment cannot shift to accommodate it, causing pressure to build up below the surface. The pressure continues to build up until the rocks and dirt stop taking it and, well, explode, usually with a startlingly loud crash or crash. This is not as scary as it seems: unlike earthquakes, for which they are often mistaken, cryoseism is very localized and relatively low-energy. If you’re not right in the middle, the noises are the worst.

Freezing earthquakes have already been reported in Illinois , Indiana and Pennsylvania ; with a forecast promising even colder temperatures tomorrow, it is likely that more will come. If you hear a loud crackling sound, try not to panic. After all, this is not the end of the world – the earth is cold enough to explode.


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