Arctic blast could trigger a rare weather phenomenon: Frost quakes

When arctic air blasts through the Northeast and New England this weekend, it could cause a rare weather phenomenon called frost quakes.

Frost quakes, also known as ice quakes or cryoseisms, are seismic events caused by a sudden fracturing or cracking action in frozen ground, soil or rock that is saturated with water or ice. If the cracking is big enough, the process can cause a shaking motion and a loud boom. For this reason, they are often mistaken for minor earthquakes.

Frost quakes occur when very cold air interacts with soil that is saturated after recent rain or snow has seeped into the ground.

They are triggered by a rapid temperature drop in a short amount of time when the air is at or below freezing. The cold air suddenly freezes the liquid water in the ground, causing expansion, which then causes stress and pressure to build up. The result causes soil and rocks to crack, which can make a booming sound and produce minor shaking.

They are most likely to happen in locations that are susceptible to cold air masses, like Canada and the northern states in the U.S.

Frost quakes have been reported in recent years in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, Missouri and Tennessee.

There is a climate connection to frost quakes. A 2016 study revealed that frost quakes could become more frequent in a warming climate. This is because as winters continue to warm (winters are the fastest warming season), the ground remains thawed for longer with a higher prevalence of liquid water in the soil.

Then, when intrusions of arctic air occur, the cold air will freeze the ground, resulting in frost quakes.

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