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Harsh Winter Challenges Construction Projects

By By Alex Sosnowski, Expert Senior Meteorologist
February 23, 2011, 4:36:40 AM EST

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No doubt construction workers are a tough breed. They have to be to keep up with the physical demands of the job and, in the case of this winter, the cold and the snow.

Temperatures have averaged well below normal over much of the eastern two-thirds of the nation thus far this winter. However, from what we found, some projects continued to move along despite the inconvenience of the cold. It is the heavy snow and ice that become major problems.

Keeping Up with the Cold

There have been some advances in technology that allow for paving of asphalt and concrete pouring in cold weather.


Construction workers carry supplies at the World Trade Center site in New York City, Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2008. AP Photo/Mark Lennihan).

According to Charlie Campbell of the heavy construction company, Glenn O. Hawbaker, Inc., "A new, warm-mix asphalt allows us to do some paving projects in the winter," Campbell added.

"Proper compaction is the concern with asphalt, but this warm-mix asphalt performs well," Campbell added.

The use of air-entrained and low sump concrete minimizes bleed water in freezing temperatures.

John Sallurday of Jack Frost Construction stated, "When the weather is cold like it has been, you have to improvise and adjust the way you do things."

Equipment has to be protected from the cold. Diesel fuel has to be treated with a non-gelling additive.

When questioned about pouring concrete in the cold, Sallurday stated, "We funneled warm air flow through an exhaust vent off an adjacent building at the site. We ran the pipe under the plastic which was over top of the concrete. It kept the concrete warm enough."


Photo by photos.com

Sallurday added, "Concrete generates its own heat as it is curing. In the cold weather, you just have to keep it covered, insulated and dry."

Working in the cold is cumbersome and inconvenient. Many construction workers beat the cold by wearing insulated clothing including boots and gloves.

Ed Witherite, who was clothed in a one-piece insulated outfit when AccuWeather.com RealFeel® temperatures were near zero stated that he "keeps moving" to avoid the cold getting to him.

Sallurday said, "The heavy gloves being worn by the workers have a negative effect on efficiency, but it is necessary in this cold weather to protect the workers' hands and keep the project moving forward."

Cold Is One Thing, Snow and Ice Are Another

According to Campbell, "There is a lot of work that just isn't done during the winter."

"Safety is the primary concern," Campbell added, referring to the snow and ice the winter brings.

Portions of the Plains, Midwest and Northeast have already had or were challenging record snowfall amounts this winter.

"Excavation in frozen ground can be done, but it is slow. Snow and ice shuts down the construction site," Campbell said.

The snow covers things up and then it is too costly for the property owner to pay to clean up the site.

The snow hides potential hazards and, of course, makes surfaces slippery and unsafe for crews.

It is all in the matter of planning.

"Most projects allow for down time in the winter months due to the weather," Campbell added.

Some construction companies, such as Hawbaker, Inc., even have snowplowing operations to keep their business thriving during sieges of snow in the winter.

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