Sinkholes, including the ones in The Villages, are the result of a localized collapse of the stone ceiling of an underground chamber. This is usually caused when acidic rainwater seeps through the ground and weathers away the soft, chemically reactive stone below, creating a large hollow cavern. Eventually, the ceiling of the cavern collapses and exposes the chamber below. The final collapse can be triggered by either very wet or very dry weather.
The Villages is a planned residential community in Sumter County, Florida, that is largely built over limestone and is vulnerable to the sudden appearance of sinkholes. Over large periods of time, water from rainfall gradually erodes the rock under the community's many neighborhoods and leaves the substrate under these areas greatly weakened and prone to subsidence and collapse. The proximate cause of a sinkhole opening in any given location is usually exceptionally high rainfall, which quickly eats through the already weakened canopy, or extended periods of dry weather, which cause the local water table to fall.
Over the years since The Villages opened, dozens of sinkholes have damaged homes, roads and other common areas, often with little or no warning. Sometimes the ground sags or cracks as the subsidence area grows larger, but often the ground gives way all at once. Sinkholes can be relatively small and shallow, or they can be hundreds of feet wide and deep.