Heavy rains = sinkholes
Water has been called the fuel that drives sinkhole activity. In fact, in the definition of sinkhole activity provided under Florida Statutes, the term “sinkhole” is the action of water on limestone or other similar rock formation.
Water is not, in most situations, a neutral actor, as it usually acidic or basic, and can act to dissolve rock over time. Therefore, sinkholes can form when we receive heavy, consistent rainstorms.
Why does heavy rain cause sinkholes to form?
Water percolating through soil completely alters the characteristics of the soil. Although some soil material is compacted, the addition of water acts to “reorient” or change the density of the material. This usually happens only in the shallow soil, as the deeper material is still under the pressure of the soil above it. Due to the chemicals in rainfall and how they respond to the soil underground, the earth is weakened.
In a lot of ways, the soil is acting not as a solid material but as a dynamic material reacting to the climate changes. When those changes are dramatic during heavy summer rains, more changes are often observed in the homes.
Does heavy rain always mean sinkholes?
While one shouldn’t necessarily assume a sinkhole will open after heavy rains, it is safe to be aware of any sinkholes that open in surrounding areas. This is because the increase in water also acts to create more disputes regarding the causes of damage.
For example, when there is an increase in the water on soil material, the water can also trigger other, unrelated soil conditions. These include associations with active “shrink-swell clay,” which often masks sinkhole conditions at a property.
The increase in water also causes the loosening of sand, which can also mask conditions more likely to be the result of the sinkhole.
Suffice to say, if you’re in an area where sinkholes are common, or your neighbors are experiencing sinkholes after heavy rains, do not hesitate to contact your insurance company to provide an engineer, even if the physical effects of a sinkhole do not seem to present themselves.