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Infrastructure Suffers In The Freeze And Thaw Cycle

File photo of ice on a window during a 'polar vortex.' (Tony Ganzer / ideastream)

Northeast Ohio was promised extreme arctic temperatures, and that's what it got.

A wind chill warning bridged Tuesday and Thursday, with wind chill values around -30 degrees at times.

The forecast shows Northeast Ohio could be in for temperatures in the 50s in a matter of days, and the freeze and thaw could bring potholes and other strains on infrastructure, especially water pipes.

"When you see this really cold weather, and then it becomes quite warm, unfortunately what will happen is you'll see a lot of water line breaks," says Greg DiLoreto, chair of the Committee on America's Infrastructure for the American Society of Civil Engineers. "And there's not necessarily any way to know that's going to happen until after you get through the event."

Need for Investment

DiLoreto says overall there's a lack of investment in infrastructure, so things like water pipes get older and take a beating from extreme freezing and thawing cycles.

"This infrastructure is not unlike your house, and the roof on it that needs to be replaced every so often and repaired," he adds.

That's one of the reasons utilities have crews checking infrastructure items--water lines, power lines, etc--regularly, DiLoreto says.

And some agencies invest into broader asset management programs which catalog pipes, valves, and other equipment, to know which pieces are oldest and might need to be replaced soon

Of Plans and Climate Change

Beyond water lines, extreme weather can take a toll on homes, as well.

Houses aren't DiLoreto's specialty, but he says weather is definitely taken into account in the building code, requiring certain practices that fit the region best.

"Clearly some of these temperatures as we go through climate change are things we may not have seen before, and so that certainly puts a little more risk on those of us as owners," DiLoreto says.

There's also risk from aging infrastructure that hits pocketbooks.

DiLoreto says studies have shown big losses of disposable income for Americans on account of poorly-functioning infrastructure.

"If we had the will, it would be less expensive for us to fix it, than it is to suffer the consequences of having poorly-functioning infrastructure," he says.

Tony Ganzer has reported from Phoenix to Cairo, and was the host of 90.3's "All Things Considered." He was previously a correspondent with the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, covering issues like Swiss banks, Parliament, and refugees. He earned an M.A. in International Relations (University of Leicester); and a B.Sc. in Journalism (University of Idaho.) He speaks German, and a bit of French.