Several cars and a large pickup truck are piled up against a bridge after being swept downstream by a flood.

Flash flooding swept away cars and damaged homes in Tennessee in August 2021.

Photo: AP Photo/John Amis)

US Infrastructure in Disarray Due to Extreme Weather, Climate Change

A higher frequency of extreme and unusual weather events is taking a toll on US infrastructure at an alarming rate, according to an new analysis by the New York Times. Across the country extreme heat is melting asphalt and buckling major roadways, kinking rail tracks, and overheating nuclear power plants. Extreme storms are causing massive power outages and unprecedented flooding. A record-setting drought has caused multiple 'mega-fires' and the most recent agriculture/food crisis.

As extreme weather has become more and more common over the past few years, infrastructure specialists are now expecting to see a relentless attack on infrastructure engineering that has not been constructed to deal with stark changes in weather patterns.

The report paints a clear picture:

  • "On a single day this month, a US Airways regional jet became stuck in asphalt that had softened in 100-degree temperatures, and a subway train derailed after the heat stretched the track so far that it kinked -- inserting a sharp angle into a stretch that was supposed to be straight."
  • Throughout the country unusually high heat is causing highway sections to expand and create hazardous speed bumps and cracks.
  • In the Chicago area, a nuclear power plant had to get special permission to keep operating this month due to its cooling water rising above acceptable limits.
  • Power grids are being pushed to their limits as intense heat waves cause sharp increases in electricity usage for cooling.
  • Water runoff from harsh storms and falling ash from major fires are damaging water quality and increasingly damaging public reservoirs.

And the list goes on as engineers and city officials are scrambling to keep up with the rate of challenges presented by changing climate patterns. Cities, such as New Orleans, are now spending billions of dollars to increase the height of levees and flood walls due to rising sea levels and stronger storms. Small towns in Vermont are revamping drainage systems to avoid extreme flooding caused by major storms such as Hurricane Irene.

"We've got the 'storm of the century' every year now," Bill Gausman, a senior vice president at Potomac Electric Power Company, told the Times. The company took eight days to fully recover from the June 29 "derecho" storm, which knocked out power for 4.3 million people in 10 states and the District of Columbia.

Leading climate scientists expect extreme weather occurrences to increase, posing many more challenges to the nation's infrastructure in the future.

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