‘Frost quakes’ may be hitting Chicago as temperature drops to record-breaking lows

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The winter weather isn’t done with Chicago; now there is talk of frost quakes.

CNN affiliate WGN reported Wednesday that viewers in the Chicago area were awakened by a series of booms.

“I thought I was crazy! I was up all night because I kept hearing it,” viewer Chastity Clark Baker said on Facebook, the news station reported. “I was scared and thought it was the furnace. I kept walking through the house. I had everyone’s jackets on the table in case we had to run out of here.”

That boom was no furnace ready to burst, but it probably was a weather phenomenon as dauntingly named as the “firenado”: the frost quake.

A frost quake, or cryoseism, occurs when the water underground freezes and expands causing the soil and rock to crack.

That booming or banging sound usually begins when there is a sudden drop in temperature, WGN reported, much like Chicago’s recent dip to a record-breaking low of 27 below.

But Chicago hasn’t been alone in experiencing wild weather as a breakdown in the polar vortex brought the coldest air in a generation to several parts of the US and created dangerous and, at times, deadly conditions.

Extreme weather has killed at least 10 people. At the peak of this week’s extreme weather, about 224 million people across the country were hit with below-freezing temperatures.

Travel roadblocks

By air and road, the winter conditions have raised major obstacles for travelers.

Snow squalls have moved through the Northeast, bringing brief near-whiteout conditions to New York, Philadelphia and other cities.

The National Weather Service said people affected by the squalls would see a quick burst of snow, combined with winds gusting over 30 mph, making it nearly impossible to see.

More than 4,800 flights involving US airports were canceled for Wednesday and Thursday, according to FlightAware.com. The majority of them — more than 3,500 flights — were in and out of Chicago.

On Wednesday, Amtrak canceled all service to and from Chicago — a hub that typically operates 55 trains a day — because of weather.

Deaths linked to brutal weather

As millions grapple with the frigid temperatures, at least 10 deaths have been linked to the extreme weather this week.

Officials in Iowa said there have been four deaths there this week, including the discovery of a University of Iowa student Wednesday.

The man, a sophomore, was found unresponsive about 3 a.m. CT behind a campus recreational facility. According to the National Weather Service, the temperature in Iowa City at that time was about 21 below zero and it had been below zero all day.

The Ecorse Police Department told CNN that they have one weather-related death in their city Wednesday.

Storm-related deaths were also reported in Illinois, Minnesota, Indiana and Wisconsin, authorities said.

Blood drives canceled

The arctic temperatures are not expected to let up for several more days. The National Weather Service projects that 75% of the US population will see below-freezing temperatures before Sunday.

With the continued cold will come the suspension of some operations and services.

The American Red Cross said 370 blood drives across the country have been canceled as the temperatures dropped.

“The Red Cross currently has an emergency need for blood and platelet donors of all types to help ensure lifesaving medical treatments and emergency care are not delayed or canceled this winter,” spokesperson Stephanie Rendon said in an email.

The US postal service said that because of the arctic temperatures, Thursday deliveries will be suspended in parts of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Due to “emergency weather conditions” the state government offices of Michigan will be closed for a second day on Thursday.

Michigan asked to turn the heat down

Despite the frigid temperatures, Michigan’s governor is asking some residents to turn their heat down.

A fire at Consumers Energy’s Ray Natural Gas Compressor Station in Macomb County, Michigan — which is responsible for about one-fifth of the state’s natural gas storage supply — shut down all gas flow from the facility.

Since gas delivery has been inhibited, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer made a late-night appeal to residents of the lower peninsula Wednesday, asking them to turn down their heat to 65 degrees until noon Friday.


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