Heat, Drought Savaging US Infrastructure

Roads crack, nuclear plants shut down as weather grows extreme
By Mark Russell,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 26, 2012 1:00 AM CDT
Updated Jul 26, 2012 6:50 AM CDT
Heat, Drought Punishing US Infrastructure
The exposed bottom of the Mississippi River near St. Louis is baked and cracked by extreme heat and lack of rain.   (AP Photo/Robert Ray)

Farming isn't the only thing being devastated by the country's ongoing drought—much of the US' infrastructure is getting pounded, too, as the record-setting heat takes its toll on concrete, steel, and pavement, reports the New York Times. In Washington, DC, 100-degree temperatures caused a subway to derail and softened asphalt on an airport runway enough that a jet got stuck. In the Northeast and Midwest, the heat has highways expanding beyond their design limits, causing them to ripple and pop up where sections join. In Texas, the clay underneath the highways is shrinking from the drought, causing major cracking on the roads above.

Even more dangerous than road damage, though, are the nuclear power plants affected by the extreme weather. In Chicago, officials at a nuclear plant needed to get special permission to keep the plant operating because its cooling water temperature rose to 102 degrees, above its 100-degree limit. Another plant was forced to shut down because the drought dried up the water source it normally uses for cooling. And the Times notes that infrastructure experts expect the extreme weather to stick around. "We've got the 'storm of the century' every year now," said a power company executive. (Read more drought stories.)

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