By Sonya James
Posting in Cities
This month saw cracking highways and swaths of melting asphalt. Is the government spending enough time researching how the climate affects infrastructure?
The dry desert landscape of apocalyptic films like Mad Max never seemed prescient to me. If anything, they had a retro-futuristic quality.
But looking at pictures of a US Airways regional jet stuck in melting asphalt, or a derailed subway train thrown off a heat stretched track, made Mad Max's once foreign imagery hit a little too close to home.
In East Texas, the clay-rich soil is contracting so quickly the highways are cracking open.
Who knew heat would be the deadliest natural disaster in the United States?
"Between 1979 and 2003, heat waves killed at least 8,015 Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention," writes Brad Plumer of The Washington Post. "That’s more than hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, floods and earthquakes combined."
The rise in extreme weather means old strategies for infrastructural growth and development need to be reassessed or scrapped.
“We’ve got the ‘storm of the century’ every year now,” said Bill Gausman, a senior vice president and a 38-year veteran at the Potomac Electric Power Company. The June 29 “derecho” storm that hit the Midwest and traveled to the Eastern Seaboard knocked out power for 4.3 million people in 10 states and the District of Columbia.
The Potomac Electric Power Company took eight days to recover.
Highways are designed for climate patterns we are no longer experiencing. As local climates change, "All bets are off," said Mr. Scullion, the senior research engineer with the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University. “We could have some very dramatic failures of highway systems.”
Vicki Arroyo, who heads the Georgetown Climate Center at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, urged the federal government to do more. “They are not acknowledging that the future will look different from the past,” she said, “and so we keep putting people and infrastructure in harm’s way.”
David Behar, the climate program director for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, said: “We’re living in an era of assessment, not yet in an area of adaptation."
Jul 29, 2012
Underground electrical feeds help to minimalize impact from storm damage and decrease the costs and helps recovery time from such weather events. Hardening our transmission lines in rual and urban areas in this manner protect the grid.
When the bid goes to the lowest bid not the best design and construction firm you get what you pay for. This is how an idiocracy functions. This problem is further increased when you add into it the corruption of the whole process. In many cases the environmental conditions do have effect on the construction regardless of the design and engineering quality. The key here is to find creative and efficient adaptations to extreme natural conditions and apply them in an expedient fashion. This is difficult,t considering the inefficiencies of governmental structures. There needs to be quick reaction teams funded by Gov to effectively meet the challenges of such problems. Those teams should be a partnership between public and private sectors. It is unrealistic to expect any engineering project to be impervious to extreme natural and man made disasters. But the deign and construction of projects can within reason limit the impact of them and provide contingencies based upon likely extreme senerios.
Over 20 years ago I was in Austin Texas at a large customer site in July. They had thousands of cars in their parking lot, and windshields were blowing out every day due to the heat. If you are a youngster, you may not remember the past, but I've seen roads buckling, etc., for many years. It is nothing new!
The Grid is part of the problem. Localization of electricity through small and mid size natural gas plants is the answer. Large grids are subject to disruptive outages. Natural gas generators can be scaled down to home size also. Especially in combined heat and power generators in cold areas.
There's a bit of selective editing going on here. For example, the death toll from the Galveston, TX Hurricane of September 18, 1900 alone was about 8000, or the number of heat deaths cited in the article. The death toll of the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 was about 3400. Katrina's death toll was about 1800. There were other natural disasters further back in the 1800's that probably would have had a larger death toll if the area affected was as populated as it was today. See http://genealogy.about.com/od/historic_disasters/tp/deadliest_us.htm and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_United_States_disasters_by_death_toll . The only really major earthquake the US in the last 100 years after San Francisco was the one in 1964 in sparsely populated Alaska (it had a death toll of 143). When the big one hits LA or San Francisco (again) the death toll could easily go into the thousands. Mount St. Helens erupted in a sparsely populated area, otherwise it could have killed thousands. Heat waves are tricky. They affect mostly the elderly and infirm. We have a lot more people in this category today because of population growth and better health care. If you look at the list of natural disasters on the Wikipedia page I cited above, you'll see that bad heat waves generally cause deaths in the hundreds, not the thousands of other kinds of bad natural disasters. Heat waves do affect wider areas, and we get more of them than we do bad hurricanes and other natural disasters, so they add up. But let's not forget that the 8000 people killed by heat waves in the 25 years cited above is only 0.7% of the 1,096,372 US motor vehicle deaths in the same period (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_motor_vehicle_deaths_in_U.S._by_year ). Death tolls from hurricanes, tornadoes, and most other natural disasters are generally less today because we are better at predicting them (on the other hand, the dollar cost of damage caused by natural disasters has gone up because of population growth and the fact that you can't move buildings out of the way). Heat waves are different because they aren't considered major disasters. This leaves the elderly and infirm to fend for themselves. Often these people cannot or do not want go to buildings with A/C. Others in inner cities leave their windows closed because they fear break-ins. This is not to say that we shouldn't do more to find and help these people during heat waves, or that their lives are somehow worth less than others. If anything, it says we need to pay more attention to this hidden problem.
[i]"Between 1979 and 2003, heat waves killed at least 8,015 Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention"[/i] That's hardly an impressive stat. So, on average, roughly 334 people per year die due to heat waves? That's statistically invisible to the number of people who die each year due to winter, which is usually around 100,000. The headline of this piece was a complete lie. The US grid has been holding up remarkably well this season, despite the heat. The northeast outage was entirely storm related, and not due to any shortage on the part of the grid. The title of this article should have been "Global Warming to Save Lives". Just as silly, but certainly more accurate.
Two things; turn the highways into national solar energy collector grids using transparent UV polymers AND allow the grasses to grow during season to increase natural water retention. The FDOT could outsource hay bailing along the highways and contribute the hay to disadvantaged communities, rescure organizations and homeland security to reduce our taxes.
"Vicki Arroyo, who heads the Georgetown Climate Center at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, urged the federal government to do more. They are not acknowledging that the future will look different from the past, she said, and so we keep putting people and infrastructure in harms way. Don't worry; the federal government has plenty of money to make war in some third-world country, blow its infrastructure to kingdom come, and then take the time and money to rebuild it. Just don't ask it to spend one dime helping people here (unless they have money).
I agree with you in part, however you must remember the the more you decentralize the main power generation nodes, the more difficult and expensive it can be to service them over the long term. The answer lies in both central and decentralized components. Building out from existing networks thru integration of more localized modular power generation nodes. This is in effect spreading the "load" of the grid in an organic and more flexible manner. I agree with modular use of scalable natural gas generators... However you ha to make contingencies for potential natural or man made causal disruptions in pipelines such as earthquakes and human errors. See the Highway system as a distributed solar power collection network. These are ideas worth developing because they involve modifications to existing infrastructure.
If Katrina hit with no warming, as in 1900 in Galveston TX, the death toll would have been in the tens of thousands. Even the poorly executed evacuation that did happened can be credited with keeping deaths in New Orleans to only around 1,800. If a comparable major quake and fire hit San Francisco today the death toll would likely be about the same as in 1906. While better building codes would save lives, the much higher population density would put far more people at risk. Liquefaction was a killer in parts of San Francisco in 1906. From an infrastructure standpoint the problem is worse now because the number of areas backfilled and developed around the bay has increased since 1906. Up to 25 percent of the 9 county region is susceptible to liquefaction. http://geomaps.wr.usgs.gov/sfgeo/liquefaction/maps.html The Great Colonial Hurricane of 1635 had few recorded fatalities because there were only European 2 colonies at the time. (There was no record kept of native American fatalities, but there had to be many) If such a storm hit the east coast today the damage would be massive. The death toll would be very high. In large part because as a society we have been dumb enough to allow building in areas that historically are pounded in rare storms. There were parts of the east coast that saw flooding in 2011 with Irene that had not seen such weather since the 1938 hurricane. They suffered from Irene because decades of complacency lulled them into a false sense of security to rebuild what had been destroyed in 1938. This insurance industry report does an nice job of objectively noting the problems with poor development and the cost if history repeats its self. Note there is not one mention of climate change. The damage projections are based on history. http://www.propertycasualty360.com/2012/06/06/industry-headed-for-bankruptcy-when-a-hurricane-hi?t=es-specialty-business&utm_source=PC360DailyeNews&utm_medium=eNL&utm_campaign=PC360_eNLs
I agree... Been saying the same thing for years. There's much that can be done with integrated concepts like that but most people are too busy bitching about stuff to move on to solutions. I have zero tolerance for those kinds of people now. Further more I developed a national water pipeline network integrating the highway system into it as a vital national component. Interesting how many people would rather debate about the problems rather than work together on solutions... To those people I say... Shut up and get out of the way... Be apart of the solution or go drink yourself to death and at least decrease the problem by a factor of one.
Further evidence of how corrupt we have become as a society. Blaming warm weather for poorly built roads is pathetic. People buying that load of crap are sheep who will believe anything they are told.
Roads that have stood up for at least decades are now cracking due to the heat, but you say they were "poorly built?" How about the airport runways? Are those "poorly built," too? Stop watching FAUX Noise, and get a clue. Scientists are there to (gosh) do science and inform us. But it would help if we would actually LISTEN to them, wouldn't it?
Doling out generalities has been your specialty. Where's your evidence? And the quality of construction of a tarmac has nothing to do with an airplane's tires melting on it.
Roads and runways are regularly resurfaced. If not done properly many problems can come up. I am sitting less than a mile from an Interstate highway bridge that was resurfaced less than a year ago and it is already a pot holed mess after just 1 winter. Speaking to a cement truck driver who worked on the project I found out his company warned the state problems would occur because of short cuts the general contractor was doing. The state ignored their concerns. The entire Mass Pike off ramp from the Ted Williams tunnel to Logan airport, hundreds of tons of cement, started floating like a giant bath tub less than a year after it was built because ground water drainage was not built to design. The contractor tried to blaming rising sea levels from global warming forcing the need for a design change until a whisle blower gave away their mistake. The local list of screw ups is long. The national list must be insanely huge. Why do people accept blaming a vague evil like global warming instead of accepting that fraud and waste happen on public works projects all the time. The fact people are getting so angry over this point quite amusing. Thanks for the laugh.
Is the need to blame a single event on global warming so strong in you that you argue over an incident like this? If you must, a properly compacted base would not settle allowing a SOFT SPOT to sag into the created void on a hot day. And yes, faulty base work can show years after completion. If this had been a cold weather state the freeze/thaw cycle would have opened the void much faster and led to a pot hole in a year or 2. With Reagan International being in a more temperate state, one that does not see hundreds of freeze/thaw cycles a season, the void would likely develop from water migration.
Hates Idiots, since you're passing yourself off as an expert in construction, please feel free to demonstrate how a poor aggregate base contributes to soft asphaltic concrete. A look at that photo shows the asphalt is aged, unlike the nice, black traffic marker paint. If this were a sign of poor construction, it would have failed years ago, don't you think? Most construction defects occur within a few years of completion, not decades.
- - But looking at pictures of a US Airways regional jet stuck in melting asphalt - - The tires were not melting. The asphalt was. There has been nothing extra ordinary about this years heat. Levels this warm have happened in the recent past. - - It was apparently a soft spot caused by the heat, - - airline spokeswoman Michelle Mohr said It is very apparent the tarmac melted and buckled because of a poor substructure. A properly designed tarmac would not be melting soft spots. The CRJ-200 that got stuck is a commuter plane seating no more than 50 people. A 737 or god forbid a 747 or a large Airbus would have been in deep trouble hitting such a soft spot. That is poor design and/or construction of the tarmac anyway you cut it. http://airnation.net/2012/07/09/us-airways-stuck-reagan-pavement/