May 8, 2023 - Climate

Indianapolis potholes ease with climate change

Data: Climate Central; Chart: Axios Visuals

Pothole season has come and gone with relatively little notice.

Driving the news: Indianapolis received 10,758 service requests for potholes between Jan. 1 and the end of April, down from 27,864 during the same period last year.

  • The city averaged 17,410 potholes over the past 10 years.

What they're saying: The public works department attributes Indianapolis' tolerable pothole season to "continued investment in the maintenance and rehabilitation" of streets under Mayor Joe Hogsett.

Reality check: It's the weather.

Why it matters: Climate change is easing Indianapolis' pothole burden even as the city struggles to chip away at a $1 billion-plus infrastructure deficit.

  • Potholes form when water expands and contracts during freeze-thaw cycles.
  • When the temperature stays above freezing, there are fewer potholes.

State of play: Indianapolis just had its second-warmest winter since 1970, with an average temperature near 37 degrees, per Climate Central.

  • Last winter was almost five degrees warmer than average.

The big picture: Winter is the fastest-warming season for much of the continental U.S., Axios' Andrew Freedman writes.

  • About 80% of the country now has at least seven more winter days with above-normal temperatures, compared with 1970, per Climate Central.
  • Not only are winters warming overall, but cold snaps are becoming less severe and shorter in duration, the latest research shows.

By the numbers: Indianapolis' worst pothole winter during the past decade was 2018 when citizens reported more than 30,000 — as the average temperature dropped below 31 degrees.

  • The lightest year was 2016, with 8,519 potholes reported, when the average temperature was 35.5 degrees.

The bottom line: Hogsett has increased spending on street work, including $50 million on resurfacing over the past two years and $10 million on strip-patching this year, but the city's streets remain in overall poor condition.


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