Midwest Polar Vortex Impacts Critical Infrastructure


This past week, a blast of polar air covered much of the Midwest, closing schools and sending staff home early—causing businesses and restaurants to close shop before the end of the day. Piercing the Midwest with record low temperatures, infrastructure systems were also strained. Rail lines were snapped and gas-fed heaters ran alongside the rails in Chicago to keep them warm, which made residents think the train tracks were on fire. Hundreds of flights around the country were cancelled ahead of time, so passengers could make alternative plans instead of spending the night in the airport. Utilities, such as water and electric systems also felt the effects of the cold winter air.

Day to day, we don’t think much about our infrastructure systems, but after several states recorded sub-zero temperatures this past Wednesday, infrastructure was top of mind. We tend to think about our infrastructure systems when water mains break or the power goes out. With the sudden weather drop into negative temperatures, many people in the Midwest and North experienced just that.

Civil engineers work on these issues daily, and it is part of their duty to promote the safety, health, and welfare of the public. When our systems are stress-tested during these brittle temperatures, our engineers are ready to talk about how this polar vortex impacts our water and electric infrastructure.

  • On Wednesday, ASCE Past-President and Chair of ASCE’s Committee on America’s Infrastructure Greg DiLoreto spoke with WCPN about the strain the freeze and thaw cycle puts on infrastructure
  • ASCE member Otto Lynch, CEO of Power Line Systems, interviewed with Associated Press about the impacts of winter weather on pipes, water systems, and electric infrastructure

Stay safe and warm this winter season!


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