What causes potholes? The science behind these headaches in the road

What causes potholes? The science behind these headaches in the road

You may have noticed that potholes are bad right now and only seem to be getting bigger and deeper.

The reason for that is simple: drastic changes in temperatures. Have you ever put a bottle of water or a can of pop in the freezer to cool it off and left it in too long? The bottle or can appears to have "exploded." What's happening is the frozen liquid has expanded and is causing the container holding it to deform. This same concept is at play with pothole formation.

When precipitation falls as rain or snow, it seeps into tiny cracks in the pavement. Then, when temperatures plummet, that water freezes.

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Most things condense or shrink when they become solid. Water actually reaches maximum density at about 39.2 degrees Fahrenheit. That means that when it freezes, it expands. This causes any tiny cracks that water is sitting in to become larger. As the freeze/thaw cycle repeats itself, roads begin to crack and eventually from potholes.

Recent weather isn't helping either. Last week, we had subzero temperatures. This week, we've seen highs in the 60s. That drastic change in temperature only exacerbates the problem.

Now, we're tracking the threat for multiple inches of rain and another big cool down later in the week. This will lead to yet another freeze/thaw cycle, meaning the pothole problem is likely to get worse before it gets better.