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Heat and drought affecting U.S. infrastructure

Experts say that the nationwide drought and heatwaves are beginning to cause adverse effects to highways and other aspects of the U.S. infrastructure.
Experts say that the nationwide drought and heatwaves are beginning to cause adverse effects to highways and other aspects of the U.S. infrastructure.

While this blog has previously mentioned the effects of the current nation-wide drought – over 1,000 counties in 26 states declared a disaster area – experts are now saying that the U.S. infrastructure is under serious risk as well.

According to a recent New York Times article, the concrete, steel and sophisticated engineering of the nation's underbelly is being adversely affected from heat, summer storms and drought.

Tom Scullion, senior research engineer with the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University said that the clay-rich soils under Texas highways "just shrink like crazy" and cause drastic cracking. Scullion added that in Midwestern and Northeastern states, high heat causes highway sections to "expand beyond their design limits, press against each other and 'pop up,' creating jarring and even hazardous speed bumps."

In general, highways are designed according to their location, Scullion said. However, when drastic weather changes occur, all bets are off and dramatic failures can happen.

Even the pattern of electricity use is affected, said the news source, with demand at its highest peak yet. This causes the need for greater investment in generating stations, transmission lines and local distribution lines, which will only be used at full capacity for part of the year.

"We build the system for the 10 percent of the time we need it," said Mark Gabriel, a senior vice president of Black & Veatch, an engineering firm. Gabriel added that the 10 percent is "getting more extreme."

With the growing possibility of dangerous or uncertain road conditions, due to the drastic weather changes, companies and organizations should ensure that they have an accurate business continuity plan in place. That way, if roads are under construction, or if the electrical systems encounter connectivity issues, the business can still be run smoothly, even if at a different location than normal.