A new year has arrived, and with it, new engineering challenges. As 2018 rolled in, so did incredible weather events in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.


In the Northern Hemisphere, it has been extremely cold. Days after New York’s governor, Andrew M. Cuomo, revealed a clean energy policy proposal for the state, a winter storm known as a ‘bomb cyclone’ descended upon the East Coast of the United States of America.


Extreme cold

The East Coast has undergone one of the coldest holiday seasons in recent memory. Florida has seen unfamiliar changes in temperatures too. So much so, the state’s iguanas were sent into a state of confusion - they became so cold that they fell out of their trees.


Then, there are the engineering challenges that come with immensely cold temperatures. At Kennedy Airport (JFK) in New York, a water pipe suffered a weather-related break, subsequently flooding a terminal, which led to delays for thousands of travelers.


The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey released a statement explaining that it was the pipe-fed sprinkler system within Terminal 4 that broke at 2 p.m. on Sunday, the 7th of January 2018. The Port Authority’s Executive Director Rick Cotton said:

“What happened at JFK Airport is unacceptable, and travelers expect and deserve better. While the water pipe break that occurred appears to be weather-related, we have launched an investigation into the incident to determine what occurred and why an internal pipe was not weather protected and whether any other failures contributed to this disruption.”


All electrical systems were powered down in the terminal to ensure short-circuits did not occur. 500 flights were canceled due to the pipe break. The baggage claim areas were packed with hundreds of passengers’ bags due to the cancellations.


The bomb cyclone led to three days of flight disruptions for the airport. The Port Authority maintained that “frigid temperatures” would continue to cause “equipment failures and slower than normal operations”.


Extreme heat

In the Southern Hemisphere, sweeping heat waves have sent temperatures soaring. In Victoria, Australia, it was so hot a section of the Hume Highway began melting. Motorists were forced to avoid sticky, melted portions of the road on Friday, the 5th of January 2018.

Temperatures reached 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) on the Hume outside Broadford, causing the bitumen (binding agent) in the tarmac to reactivate and turn to liquid. Alarmingly, the bitumen gets stuck to tires due to the ‘bleeding’ road surface.


Interestingly, melting asphalt is easy to repair due to the fact that only the top layer of the asphalt is affected, which is, in part, why it is used in highway engineering. Moreover, higher grade bitumen can be used to prevent asphalt softening.


However, the disadvantage of bitumen asphalt roads is that greenhouse gases are released once the road begins melting. This has led to some civil engineers to suggest that concrete roadways are better, despite being more expensive.


Climate change effects continue to present engineers with new and unique challenges – 2018 is proving to be no different.


Works Cited

Clark, Emily. “Explained: How Heat Affects Roads, Trains and Planes.” ABC News, 6 Jan. 2018, www.abc.net.au/news/2018-01-06/how-heat-affects-roads-trains-and-planes/9308342.

Silva, Daniella. “Water Main Break, Baggage Pileup at JFK Airport Add to Winter Travel Chaos.” NBCNews.com, NBCUniversal News Group, 7 Jan. 2018, www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/water-main-break-baggage-pileup-jfk-airport-add-winter-travel-n835431.

“Who, What, Why: When Does Tarmac Melt?” BBC News, BBC, 15 July 2013, www.bbc.com/news/magazine-23315384.

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