Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A Harsh Winter's Legacy: Potholes, Frost Heaves, Mud Season

A little more than a quarter mile down the hill from my house in St. Albans, Vermont, is Interstate 89,  a major route that cuts diagonally across Vermont from White River Junction, to Burlington, then north through St. Albans to the Canadian border.  
A Burlington, Vermont street is broken up and heaved
after a tough winter in March, 2011. Things
are as bad if not worse this year.  

Even though the busy highway is close by, most of the time I don't notice the noise from the cars and trucks whizzing by.

I surely notice them lately, though. All the trucks carrying goods down from Montreal, and all the trucks heading up to Quebec go BANG BANG BANG over the frost heaves that have turned a ride along Interstate 89 into something like riding a bronking bull.

This usually sends Jackson the Weather Dog scrambling all over the house to see if he can chase down the noise makers and force them to shut up.

Good luck with that.

Usually, in most winters,  the Interstate doesn't fold up like a cheap rug in the face of winter's freeze/thaw cycle like many secondary roads do.

But this winter has been different than most. And we're feeling it every time we drive. Our cars' suspension systems are feeling it, too.

I swear this is the worst frost heave season in years.

This winter here in Vermont has been colder than many recent winters. It certainly wasn't even close to the coldest winter ever, but it's been cold. And it's lasted a long, long time, with subzero temperatures in some parts of Vermont lasting into the last week of March.

The frost has gotten deep into the ground amid an unrelenting parade of Arctic cold snaps

But those cold snaps have been interrupted by several rainy thaws so the water has seeped into the  cracks in bucket loads.  The water freezes, expands, and we get those huge bumps in the road. The more water, the more cold weather, the bigger the bumps.

I should have invested in alignment shops and manufacturers of car suspension systems last year had I knew this winter was going to be like this. Not only here, but in broad swaths of the U.S. I  can't wait to see the quarterly profit reports later this year of outfits like Koni, that make car suspension systems.

Now that we're into April, the frost heaves will start to subside as we get more and more warm days and the ice causing the frost heaves begins to melt.  
Mud season in Marlboro, Vermont, 2012.
Photo from Vermont Public Radio.  

Then we're faced with new problems. The broken pavement left behind by the frost heaves will morph into more potholes, joining the zillions of them that are out there.

And since the frost and cold lasted so long into the spring, we're more at risk of a sudden big thaw with no subfreezing nights and plenty of rain. That means dirt roads will turn to swamps, even more than they do already.

Mud season on roads usually isn't too bad if the thaw is gradually, with frequent cold nights and lots of dry, sunny days.

Get a very warm rainstorm that lasts a few days in there, and if you live on a dirt road, we won't be seeing you for weeks.

Basically, my suggestion is to avoid driving through Vermont until May at least, unless you like mud pies and collecting broken pieces of cars from the side of the road.

1 comment:

  1. I already found one piece of a car near our driveway along the road and it isn't even as bad here as it is further up the hill