UPDATE: Turns out it was legitimate to ask weather the temperature played a role — the feds did examine this issue in detail, but ultimately concluded it was not a factor (see their final report here, page 126).
The thought didn’t cross my mind until my Minneapolis-based brother suggested it. I had asked him for his thoughts on the collapse, and that is the question he posed.
I was skeptical at first, but after doing a Google search — and after NBC reported Sunday that National Transportation Safety Board investigators are “looking at everything” including “the weather” — I think it is a legitimate question to ask.
First, though, why is it an important question to ask? NASA’s James Hansen says we are on the verge of turning the earth into “a different planet” thanks to uncontrolled greenhouse gas emissions. We’ve seen the Brits and Chinese link recent flooding tragedies driven by extreme weather to climate change.
We are all facing far more extreme heat waves, floods, wildfires, rainstorms, droughts and hurricanes — yet our infrastructure apparently can’t handle the weather we have today, as Hurricane Katrina revealed. If we don’t adopt aggressive actions to prevent catastrophic climate change, we need to seriously climate-proof our electric grid, our levees, and our water and sewage systems.
The question remains, do we need to climate-proof our bridges, does a connection exist between climate change and the collapse of the I-35W bridge? Consider what a meteorologist who worked in the city for years blogged:
Now the questions begin. Why did this happen? Structural integrity will obviously be a huge concern. Minnesota experiences extreme temperature fluctuations throughout the year and this summer has been extremely hot and humid. During my time working there, road buckling from extreme heat was very common. You have to wonder if the bridge buckled.
And consider the remarkable conclusion of one Minneapolis resident: