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Potholes: A Driving Menace

UPDATED March 16, 2015

By WeatherBug Meteorologist, Andrew Rosenthal


With spring here, the mind might wonder about taking a drive somewhere warm. However, the otherwise perfect drive is often interrupted by small bumps and holes throughout the road. Was the road poorly built? Did some vandal take a hammer to the road?

No! These holes, known as potholes, are a late-winter, early-spring nuisance that bothers car owners and city maintenance departments alike. Potholes are typically 3 to 5 inch holes in the road, which can cause serious, and expensive, damage to car tires and the car`s suspension and underbelly.

How do these highway hazards form? Snow and ice melt into liquid water, which seeps through the road`s pavement into the soil under the road. During the winter, this water refreezes in the soil. Water expands when it freezes and the soil expands as well. This weakens the pavement above.

When the ice in the soil melts, it leaves gaps inside the weakened pavement. Cars passing over the weakened pavement cause the road to break up in that spot, creating a hole in the highway.

Potholes are commonly found in the northern states, where overnight temperatures below freezing are typical. Peak season for these pavement pests is March and April, when freeze-and-thaw cycles are common daily occurrences.

Hitting a pothole with your car can cause significant damage. Flat tires are common, because of the jagged nature of the pothole. These nuisances can also mess up your car`s alignment, wreck its suspension, or even rip a hole in the car`s oil pan, leaking oil onto the road.

Once pothole season begins, maintenance crews do the best they can to patch the potholes with fresh asphalt, making the road flat and safe for cars. However, the holes often return within a few days as another part of the road thaws.

If you see your town`s maintenance crew working in your neighborhood this spring, slow down as you drive past them. They`re probably out making your roads safe from the pothole menace.

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Story Image: WeatherBug user Carol Rosenthal snapped this image of a growing pothole in Westfield, Mass. If you see any potholes, report them to your local maintenance department.

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