January Freeze causes rare weather happenings

Snow roller in Gustavus

GUSTAVUS TOWNSHIP, Ohio (WKBN) – The bitter cold temperatures over the past few weeks have caused some weather phenomenon in our area.

Robert Burns of Gustavus Township and other viewers sent in pictures Monday of what are believed to be snow rollers, a rare meteorological phenomenon in which large snowballs are formed as chunks of ice are blown along the ground picking up material along the way.

Burns has lived at his home on Route 193 for 50 years, and this is the first time he has seen the snow rollers.

“They are so big and there are so many,” said Burns. “I knew what it was the way we had pretty high winds last night and this morning. They just roll right up like a roll of toilet paper.”

Unlike a typical snowball in which all that is needed is two good hands and some wet packing snow, snow rollers need several conditions.

WKBN meteorologist Don Guthrie said everything came together perfectly Sunday night to create the snow rollers. Around 3 a.m., the temperature rose to 38 degrees, but an hour and a half later, it it went back down to 25 degrees. The steady wind peeled off that top layer of snow-ice mixture and got it rolling.

According to the National Weather Service, snow rollers have a more log shaped appearance than the spherical shape of a snowman, and a snow roller may be hollow in the middle. Snow rollers can be as small as a golf ball, or as large as a 30 gallon drum, but they typically average 10 to 12 inches in diameter.

Last week in Mercer County, what may have been a freeze quake was reported near the Hubbard border and in Pymatuning Township.

The quake was not confirmed, but residents reported hearing a very loud, thunderous sound and felt the earth shake.

Unlike earthquakes, frost quakes are non-tectonic seismic events, meaning they are not caused by the shifting of the Earth’s tectonic plates, according to the National Weather Service.

Also known as cryoseisms, frost quakes are caused by a sudden rapid freezing of the ground and bedrock, usually when temperatures go from above freezing to below zero.

As moisture is absorbed in the rock and soil freezes, it expands. This puts a great amount of stress on the areas around it. Eventually, the stress is too much and the soil and rock will crack in an “explosive” manner, creating a loud sound and even shaking the ground surface.

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