Frequently Asked Questions

Are some locations or regions more likely to experience frost quakes than others?

Yes, some locations may be more likely to experience a frost quake, and this is based on a variety of factors. Generally, regions further north, where sub-zero temperature drops are common, may be more likely to experience a sudden freeze conducive to a cryoseism. However, any location that meets the criteria for extreme temperature lows following saturation of the ground with water may yield reports of frost quakes.

Based on data from collected reports beginning in December 2013, parts of south eastern Canada may experience the greatest density of possible frost quake incidents, with concentrations occurring around the Great Lakes, as well as the cities of Montreal and Ottawa. (1) Reports in the US are prevalent in the Midwest and Northeastern United States, with Michigan, as well as southern Indiana and western Ohio, ranking among US states where concentrations of frost quake reports exist. (1) Other reports have been documented in states that include New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine, and Connecticut. (2)

In theory, regions elsewhere around the globe with environmental conditions similar to those locations listed above may also see a concentration of incident reports.

When are frost quakes likely to occur?

According to the Maine Geological Survey, “Cryoseisms typically occur between midnight and dawn, during the coldest part of the night.” (2) Frost quakes are generally expected to occur within 3 or 4 hours after a significant temperature drop, usually when temperatures approach -4 F. (3) Frost quakes are most often reported along with the first “cold snap” of the year; a likely cause may be that this period occurs prior to the significant accumulation of snow, which can help insulate the ground, especially during the later winter months.

Are frost quakes dangerous?

The loud cracking sounds that sometimes accompany frost quakes can be alarming, as they are often described as resembling gunfire, or even an explosion somewhere nearby. In some instances, the vibrations that may accompany a frost quake can also be felt in homes or other buildings, leading some to feel they may have experienced a small earthquake. Despite the questions about alarm they may cause in more extreme circumstances, there are few reports of injury or property damage resulting from frost quakes, though at least one study has cited locations with a history of frost quake activity as a potential concern in relation to construction operations. (4)

It should also be noted that weather conditions that may occur around the time of a frost quake could present separate hazards, such as icy roads, fallen trees, and danger from frostbite. (5) For more information about safety during potentially hazardous winter weather, please see the National Weather Service guide for Winter Safety, which can be viewed here.

SOURCES:

  1. “Frostquake” (Google Maps community/database) https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=zaeeOyIfUmWk.kSIuJzqm9j2Q
  2. “Cryoseisms (or frost quakes) in Maine.” Maine Geological Survey, October 6, 2005. http://www.maine.gov/dacf/mgs/hazards/earthquakes/quake-cryoseism.htm
  3. D.E. Willis, R.W. Taylor, M. LeNoble, & S. Yellin. “Icequake Precursors”. 51st Annual Meeting of the Eastern Section of the Seismological Society of America. Dept of Geological Sciences, University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. October, 1979.
  4. Andrew V. Lacroix (January 1980). “A Short Note on Cryoseisms”. Earthquake Notes.
  5. “Winter Safety” National Weather Service Resource. http://www.nws.noaa.gov/om/winter/index.shtml
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