Frost quakes make earth move

The Canadian
The Canadian Press
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Toronto — Some Ontarians’ new year has started off with more of a bang than they expected, and chances are Mother Nature is to blame.

Large swaths of southern Ontario have been experiencing a phenomenon known as frost quakes, a comparatively rare meteorological event that takes place only in unusual circumstances.

Meteorologists say recent ice storms, thaws and deep freezes have created ideal conditions for the frost quakes that have caused public consternation and even alarm.

Dayna Vettese, a meteorologist with the Weather Network, said the reaction is perfectly justified.

Frost quakes — scientifically known as cryoseisms — are more commonly found in glaciers than in residential areas, she said.

The quakes take place when water is allowed to seep into cracks in the soil, then quickly turns to ice as a result of a rapid drop in temperature.

Water accumulation usually takes place as a result of a heavy rainstorm, Vettese said, adding the sequence was slightly different this time around.

“We had the ice storm or freezing rain event, then we had warm temperatures, or just about freezing at the surface. Then the temperatures plummeted after that,” Vettese said in an interview from Oakville, Ont. “That’s why we’ve seen a couple of these events between the ice storm and the beginning of 2014.”

Vettese said the thaw that took place shortly after Christmas allowed the ice that accumulated during the storm that blanketed much of the country to seep into the soil. The subsequent deep freeze caused that water to turn to ice, which then expanded and pried chunks of the ground apart.

“It’s almost like an earthquake because it’s very close to the surface. You will feel a little bit of shaking, maybe if you’re sitting in a chair and it happened, or you’re lying in bed, or some of your dishes might rattle.”

For many, the frost quakes were heard rather than felt. Twitter was abuzz with reports of people being wrenched from sleep as a result of loud cracks or bangs outside their homes.

Geographic location: Southern Ontario, Oakville

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