You don’t hear about sinkholes as often as tornadoes or hurricanes, but when they happen, they are big news. Some recent stories featured sinkholes in Florida and Illinois as well as here in Texas. They are big news because happen fast, grow quickly, and have the ability to wipe out a significant amount of land within minutes.
What is a sinkhole?
Conserve Energy Future says sinkholes “occur due to erosion or underground water. They start developing a long time before they actually appear. The ground beneath our feet is not as much of a solid structure as we think it is. The ground is made from dirt, along with many rocks and minerals. There is water continually seeping in between the mud, rocks and minerals, as it makes its way down to the ground water reservoirs. As this happens, the water slowly erodes the rocks and minerals. Sometimes the flow of water increases to a point when it washes away the underground structure of the land. And when the structure becomes too weak to support the surface of the earth, it collapses and opens up a hole.”
Basically, because of underground erosion caused naturally or by man, the ground can no longer support the weight above it. That’s when holes form and open up, swallowing anything and everything in their way. According to the latest US Geological Survey, they are more commonly seen in Texas, Alabama, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, and Florida. In fact, there was a sinkhole in Montgomery County just last weekend.
There are three different types of sinkholes:
Solution Sinkholes. This type of sinkhole is seen in parts of the world that have a very thin and light layer of surface soil. The lack of surface soil exposes the bedrock below the ground to continual erosion by water. As the water rushes through the bedrock, it slowly takes more and more of the rock with it. Over a long period of time, a small hole is formed in the bedrock that continues to get larger and larger, which causes a sinkhole to form either suddenly, or slowly over time.
Cover Collapse Sinkholes. These sinkholes occur when bedrock is covered by a thick, deep layer of soil and earth. Over time, the bedrock underneath starts to erode and form small cracks in the rocky area around it. As more cracks form, weak points start to appear throughout the bedrock. As the weak points become greater, the bedrock can no longer support the heavy earth on top and holes start to form. As the holes grow larger, the ground above them starts to collapse, causing large sinkholes.
Cover Subsidence Sinkholes. This type of sinkhole is slowly formed over a very long period of time, a lot longer than the two types listed above. They start to form because the land, soil, and materials on the earth above the bedrock are not knitted together very well. They are typically seen in parts of the world where the land is made up of mostly sand or clay. As the bedrock starts to erode, the sand or clay penetrates into the cracks of the bedrock, causing the sinkhole to form.
What kind of damage can a sinkhole cause?
The type of damage a sinkhole causes depends on where it forms and the type of sinkhole it is. Sometimes, sinkholes happen in the middle of the ocean, or in very remote areas, where they don’t cause much damage at all. If the sinkhole isn’t too deep, it can change the topography of the land, which isn’t necessarily a dangerous thing. But if the sinkhole forms in a heavily populated area, it can cause massive damage, swallowing cars, homes, and even people.
Currently, there are two large sinkholes in Texas that are less than one mile apart. They are in two different towns, Kermit and Wink. One sinkhole is the size of a football field, and the other stretches about 900 feet at its widest point. They are slowing growing and there is fear that soon these two sinkholes will combine and swallow most of the two towns. There have been sinkholes in California that have swallowed an entire intersection, taking cars and people with it. Needless to say, sinkholes can be very dangerous and depending on the type, can happen very quickly.
Signs of a sinkhole
In order to protect your family, home, and business from a sinkhole, you have to know what to look for to determine if one is forming in your area. You might be close to a sinkhole if:
- There is damage around the foundation of your home or office building, especially on the walls, floors, and pavement
- Your windows and doors are no longer closing properly
- The plants and grass in your yard start to die for no apparent reason
- Your well water starts to get muddy and polluted
- Small ponds of water start to form on your property without rain
- The fences, trees, and other objects in your yard start slumping and sagging
What to do if there is a sinkhole near you
If you notice any of the signs listed above, it’s important to mark off the affected area with a rope or tape and call a professional immediately. In some cases, it might be necessary to evacuate. If you live in an area that is prone to sinkholes, you might want to consider contacting your insurance agent for sinkhole insurance.
If there is a sinkhole on your property, it’s important to hire a reputable company to inspect it. If it is not too deep, the hole can be filled in using concrete. If the hole has caused damage to part of your home or office building, you can rebuild once the sinkhole is filled in and use special stabilizing piers to keep your home safe from future sinkholes. If you are worried that you live on or near a sinkhole, give us a call and we will send out an expert to inspect your property.