January 6, 2014

Toronto sits in Winter's grip.     Photo: Cary Westfall/Shutterstock.com

Frost Quakes Rock Canada

Loud booms caused by freezing ground water

Ever ahead of the cold-weather curve, Canadians are now reporting the occurrence of "frost quakes" around Toronto and Ontario. The frost quakes make their presence known in the form of a loud booming sound that can be mistaken for an explosion.

Also known as a "cryoseism," a frost quake occurs when water penetrates the soil and then rapidly freezes. With temperatures in the area reaching minus four degrees Fahrenheit, the quakes are becoming more frequent.

"Water expands when it freezes and when it expands in frozen soil it literally puts a lot of stress on that dirt and will release that energy all of a sudden, very much like an earthquake releases that energy and shifts the ground," says meteorologist Natasha Ramsahai.

Although frost quakes can be startling, they are not a threat to people or even structures. According to the Maine Geological Survey, cryoseisms release very little energy compared to a true earthquake and their vibrations tend to dissipate after a just a few hundred yards.

Nonetheless, they are still very rare. The Toronto Star spoke to Environment Canada Meteorologist Geoff Coulson, who said that this was his first experience with the phenomenon in nearly 30 years.

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Shiffrin at the FIS NORAM Giant Slalom in Aspen, Colorado, on November 29, 2012.     Photo: Beelde Photography/Shutterstock.

Shiffrin Wins World Cup Slalom

Bolsters credentials for the upcoming Sochi Games

Eighteen-year-old American skier Mikaela Shiffrin won her second World Cup slalom event of the season Sunday in Bormio, Italy, battling gnarly conditions to pull out victory by a fraction of a second.

Over two runs, Shiffrin, a Vail, Colorado, native and rising star on the U.S. Ski Team, narrowly edged out Sweden's Maria Pietilae-Holmner by 0.13 seconds. But, the victory was far from routine. Throughout the competition, snow fell at the top of the course while rain soaked the bottom, forcing spectators to bust out umbrellas.

"It's always a big confidence booster to have good skiing in different conditions," Shiffrin told the AP. "I never wanted to be a racer who could only win on hard snow or just soft snow, or just a steep pitch or just a flat. I want to be really good in all-around conditions."

Shiffrin's victory extends her lead to win her second consecutive World Cup by 62 points, with four slaloms left in the season. The race also bolsters her credentials for the upcoming Sochi Olympics, which has been plagued with disaster, including unusually warm conditions for the Winter Games.

For more on Shiffrin, check out our photo gallery and profile of the skiing phenom.

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Winter storm in Minneapolis.     Photo: Sharon Mollerus/Flickr

Extreme Cold in Midwest

Weather is the coldest in 20 years.

A polar vortex has descended upon the northern and central U.S., bringing sub-zero temperatures, "life-threatening wind chill," and the coldest weather felt in decades. Twenty-six cities are under wind-chill warnings or watches. Chicago and Minneapolis will record temperatures of 20 to 30 below. In North Dakota, wind chills were as low as negative 50 degrees.

  • School is closed in the entire state of Minnesota, as well as in districts in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Wisconsin. Even though today is a snow day, some ski areas, sledding hills, and ice rinks in Minnesota and Ohio are also closed until Tuesday.

  • Frostbite could set into exposed skin in as little as five minutes. (See also: The Cold Hard Facts of Freezing to Death.)

  • Green Bay Packers fans at Sunday's Packers-49ers game in Green Bay, Wisconsin, were grilling frozen beers, to thaw them back to a liquid state.

See also: Jim Cantore: the World's Most Fearless Meteorologist 

Are you affected by the polar vortex? Post how cold it is for you in the comments. 

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Will calorie info change consumer buying habits?     Photo: ny156uk/Flickr

Calories Required on Vending Machines

Just how many calories are in that Snickers bar?

Under Obama’s Affordable Care Act, 10,000 vending machine companies will be required to display calorie information for their products by the end of 2014—a regulation that will affect nearly five million vending machines across the country.

The vending services industry will have to spend roughly $26 million this year to make the necessary changes, followed by $24 million each year after, reports Time. Implementing and updating this new information won’t be easy for the vendors and has met some serious opposition.

"It is outrageous for us to have to do this on all our equipment," said Carol Brennan, owner of a vending services company. “The money that would be spent to comply with this—there’s no return on investment,” explained the National Automatic Merchandising Associations’ Eric Dell. 

For now, regulations on how the caloric information is displayed are loose, ranging from electronic screens to simple signs attached to the machines.

The FDA is also working toward requiring restaurant chains with more than 20 locations to display calorie information as well.  

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Australian athletes have been banned from tweeting at the Sochi games.     Photo: Kenny Louie/Flickr

Olympians Banned from Social

No tweeting for Australian athletes in Sochi.

It’s not a good time to be an Olympian from Australia.

Last week, Australian athletes competing at the Sochi Winter Games were confined to their barracks for security reasons. Now they’re prohibited from tweeting in the team bus as well.

The Australian Olympic Committee forbid the athletes from using social media in Russia to avoid a repeat of the London games when the country’s swimmers blamed Twitter and Facebook for their poor performances in the pool. 

The social ban follows the announcement last week restricting the winter competitors to Olympic precincts after the bombings in Volgograd.   

"No social media, no partying, and no personal devices allowed at the Winter Olympics for Aus team," tweeted Ausie snowboarder Scotty James. "Cheers Australian swim team."

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