Historic cold in Chicago produces 'diamond dust' and other weather phenomena

CHICAGO -- Historic cold produces 'diamond dust' and other fascinating meteorological phenomena

This is the kind of weather that many of us will be telling our grandchildren about years from now. But there is also some pretty fascinating meteorological phenomena being produced by this historic cold.

When it's this cold, the water vapor in the steam freezes into small ice crystals that give off a shiny glow when light hits them. These crystals are known as "diamond dust," which usually occurs in arctic areas.

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This extreme weather also creates special problems for public works departments.

"When it gets this cold, ordinary rock salt is ineffective so crews need to add special solution to melt the snow and ice," Elmhurst Public Works Director Howard Killian said.

In west suburban Elmhurst, they try to stick to regular road salt until the mercury falls to a specific level.

"Once the temperature starts dropping at about 25 degrees above zero, we start add calcium chloride sprayed on at the back of the truck and we start to use that until it gets to these cold temperatures we're experiencing," Killian said.

The calcium chloride adds to the cost of snow removal and starts to lose its efficacy at these extreme temperatures.

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Another phenomena that the historic cold causes are cryoseisms, or ice quakes.

When temperatures drop to 20 to 30 below zero, moisture underground rapidly freezes and expands creating a loud boom.

We had many reports of these in the area Tuesday night and expect more of them Wednesday night.
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