What Happens to Our Roads In a “Polar Vortex”

The Arctic is drunk. That’s how science blogger, Greg Laden, describes the current weather phenomena: The mass of cold air that typically sits atop the north pole has stumbled down the western hemisphere, dumping ice, feet of snow, and extreme temperatures on the United States. Even Georgia, Florida, and Louisiana are feeling the freeze.
snow stuck
Image Source: Sean Davis on Flickr, http://www.flickr.com/photos/seandavis/
Recent winters have been relatively mild so city and state officials aren’t necessarily equipped for the climate shift. Our roads and the activities they enable, can suffer. The lack of preparedness ultimately impacts how we manage – or survive – the coming months. Most cities have an annual budget for snow removal and road clearance. Some years they go over; other years they end up with a surplus. Over time it generally evens out. Yet, standard provisions don’t include a “polar vortex.” Although temperatures are starting to warm, the National Weather Forecast predicts they will remain 15 to 25 degrees bellow average for much of the country. It’s still the beginning of January, we have much more winter ahead. Already, there’s an uptick in car accidents. Parts of Indiana, Northern Ohio, and New Hampshire are reporting multi-vehicle crashes. The Northeastern United States has already had 13 fatalities due to the weather. In Southern Illinois, a string of weather related crashes left 375 vehicles stranded for hours. Crashes are only one type of problem. In Lansing, Michigan a woman contacted her municipal agency because snow blocked roads were keeping her from dialysis treatment. And that’s Michigan, a place that’s built to deal with snow and ice. Imagine what could happen in Baton Rouge. In some cases, roads won’t be cleared. According to a report in the Huffington Post, temperatures across the Midwest have dropped as low as 23 degrees below zero (48-minus including wind-chill). When it gets that cold, the chemical used for road clearing stop working. Black ice creeps over the surface like a poltergeist. And it doesn’t have to dip that low to render roads inoperable. When snowfall reaches a certain amount, it’s nearly impossible to keep it off. Walls of plowed snow eventually blow or slide back onto the asphalt. Georgia is stocking up on 8,000 lbs of road salt and Boston’s Mayor elect Martin Walsh has already named a “Snow Removal Czar.” We will wait to see what the rest of the winter brings. Image Source: The Weather Center, http://theweathercentre.blogspot.com/2013/01/new-model-forecasts-drop-polar-vortex.html


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