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Olson: Frost quake causes a commotion

Published: Friday, Jan. 3, 2014 1:56 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, Jan. 3, 2014 11:49 p.m. CDT

It was late Sunday night or early Monday, the baby had finally gone to sleep and now something else was making noise. They were odd creaky-pop noises.

“Is it the house making those noises?” my wife asked.

I knew where this was going. I had to head this line of questioning off, or soon I’d be downstairs in my underwear, armed with a Mag-Light flashlight looking for the source of these mysterious sounds. “Yep, must be. I’m sure it’s nothing. Go to sleep.”

Sleep is a precious commodity when there’s a newborn in the next room, which probably is why she didn’t make me crawl out from under the covers.

Others did, though, and many of them ended up calling the police. In DeKalb, police received more than 20 calls from residents, said Chad McNett, community relations officer with DeKalb police.

“Some people said it sounded like an explosion, some people thought it was another mini-earthquake, a couple of people thought someone was trying to break into their house,” McNett said. “A lot of people got up and kind of looked around and didn’t see anything.”

The sounds were from cryoseisms (CRY-oh-size-ums). But I prefer the term “frost quake.” People can be forgiven for not recognizing the phenomenon. It’s rather rare for the DeKalb County area, said Gilbert Sebenste, Northern Illinois University meteorologist.

But conditions were perfect last weekend, when we had a thaw Saturday with temperatures in the 40s and even 50s, followed by a drop to sub-zero temperatures Sunday night.

That causes water in the ground to freeze fast.

“When it comes to freezing like this, it’s just a firecracker waiting to explode,” Sebenste said. “As soon as it starts flash freezing the water wants to expand but it has nowhere to go.”

But the water has to expand as it freezes, and that means that it will knock the soil out of the way.  Then you have a seismic event, like an earthquake, only caused by ice.

“The ice expanded so rapidly [overnight Sunday] that the ground was forced to literally make room for the expanding ice, and it did so violently,” Sebenste said. “When that happens, you will get loud pops and depending on how much water is in the ground that freezes into these cracks you can get some pretty loud explosions.”

Although around my house the noises were relatively benign, other people have described sounds like someone was banging into their home, or even throwing major appliances around.

But can it damage your home?

“It is certainly possible that if water does manage to seep into cracks in your foundation it can expand those cracks more,” Sebenste said. “How much more, I don’t know.”

No matter how cold it gets in the coming days, we’ve probably seen our last frost quake for a while.

“We’d need to have a thaw first,” Sebenste said. “Unfortunately, that will not happen anytime soon.”

Too bad. Still, until April or so, I think I’ll be blaming all the odd sounds in the house on frost quakes. It’s probably nothing, anyway.

Moving out: According to a Migration Survey released Thursday by moving company United Van Lines, more of its customers are moving out of Illinois than are moving in.

The survey, results of which the company released Thursday, found that 61 percent of interstate moves from Illinois in 2013 were for people relocating to another state. Only 39 percent of people were moving into Illinois from out of state.

Illinois was second only to New Jersey (64 percent) in the percentage of people moving out. Other states people are leaving include New York, West Virginia, Connecticut, Utah, Kentucky, Massachusetts and New Mexico.

The “it” states include Oregon, (61 percent inbound moves) followed by the Carolinas, Washington, D.C., South Dakota, Nevada, Texas and Colorado.

Why you leaving?: People sometimes like to spin the information about entry and exit from a state to fit a political agenda.

Many of the states on that list are high-tax “blue” states, they point out, while the low-tax, supposedly more business-friendly “red” states are where people are moving.

Maybe. But when I talk to people who have left Illinois for other places, they don’t really talk about taxes or the job market or the state government.

They talk about the weather. My brother in Oregon, my friends in Austin, Texas, and San Francisco and Florida, they all talk about how they don’t miss the weather.

When we have a forecast like the one ahead of us this week, they make a point to mention it. As we brace for what could be a couple of days where the temperature doesn’t climb above zero, some people out there probably are thinking, “you know, I could do without this.”

Truth is, it’s not for everybody. If you feel like you’ve seen enough winters, there are lots of places you can go to escape them.

Just chill: I kind of like it when it gets extremely cold. My resolve might falter if it were below zero for weeks on end, but a few days of arctic cold is kind of remarkable.

People from other places see these numbers and wonder how we survive. Considering that almost all of us will survive, that’s an accomplishment.

Besides, when the weather is extreme, it gives us all something to talk about. Monday probably wouldn’t be that remarkable if it was in the mid-20s, and we still probably wouldn’t be heading outside for a picnic.

But be careful: As our story today indicates, you should take precautions the coming days as we face high winds, “ground-blizzard” conditions, and then potential sub-zero temperatures.

Keep gas in your vehicle, keep your boots handy, bring your hat and gloves with you wherever you go, dress in layers, you know the drill.

It’ll be spring before you know it.

• Eric Olson is the editor of the Daily Chronicle. Reach him at 815-756-4841 ext. 2257, email eolson@shawmedia.com, or follow him on Twitter @DC_Editor.

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