Yes, it's hotter than normal--and that can affect our infrastructure

Michael Perchick Image
Monday, July 25, 2022
Yes, it's hotter than normal, and that can affect our infrastructure
It's no secret that North Carolina summers can be hot, but even on that scale, this has been a particularly warm summer.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- It's no secret that North Carolina summers can be hot, but even on that scale, this has been a particularly warm summer.

"This is definitely atypical. Everything people are feeling right now with heat and humidity, the oppression, it's definitely an unusual year," said ABC11 meteorologist Kweilyn Murphy.

Monday marked the 45th time this year the temperature hit 90 degrees in Raleigh; in an average year, that happens 44 times.

"(As for) 95-degree plus days, we usually have 11 of those on average (annually). So far, we're at 16," Murphy said.

This is the third-hottest year on record in North Carolina, and if it holds, the top 10 hottest years will all have taken place this century.

"This is climate change," said State Climatologist Dr. Kathie Dello.

The excessive and persistent heat can also affect existing infrastructure, including roadways.

"Asphalt does get softer as the temperature gets warmer, and that can make asphalt pavements a little more prone to rutting and shoving during warm temperatures like we've been having. It's also sometimes in concrete pavements due to expansion of the concrete, you can get those pavements buckling up a little bit. That's a rare occurrence in North Carolina. It has happened in the past, but we haven't had an occurrence of that in the last several years that I'm aware of," said Clark Morrison, who is the State Pavement Design Engineer for NCDOT.

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Morrison said crews using the right asphalt mix can stave off some issues.

"We have a seal-coating process that covers the asphalt and it stops the oxidation process, or slows it down. It seals the crack and it creates a surface between the asphalt and the vehicles that are going over it," noted Mike Stephenson, President of Paving Professionals Inc. in Raleigh, which specializes in commercial properties.

Stephenson said they've seen an uptick in calls this summer, and anticipates that to continue as temperatures remain elevated.

"With the heat, we've had a lot of damage due to heavy vehicles turning, rutting in the asphalt. It's just been very hot. And with the nature of asphalt, there has been more damage," said Stephenson.

The excessive heat can cause asphalt to soften, and eventually, leave it susceptible to cracks or potholes.

"The heat isn't just hard on people, it's hard on buildings and our roads and our transit systems as well. And we're seeing runways melt in Europe and we've seen public transportation stop in the Pacific Northwest on really hot days. But some of the infrastructure is adding to the problem. We know we have urban heat islands. We see them in Raleigh. Some parts of the city are hotter than others," Dello explained, and he added that preserving green spaces is important.

While efforts like cooling centers and fan giveaways can provide temporary relief, Dello shared longer-term ideas.

"There's not just one solution for any of our climate impacts. We can think about tree canopy, we can plant trees on streets that might not have them. We can shade bus shelters, and think about our transportation systems. Are they just? Are they equitable? Are folks walking a mile to reach their nearest bus to get to work? So things like that all cascade through the system. We can think about building our buildings differently, painting our roofs white, having green roofs," said Dello.