Transportation systems

Climate Implications - Transportation Systems

Climate change in the Midwest will cause several threats to transportation systems, which carry people and supplies. Current transportation systems were designed based on historical weather and climate information, but due to climate change, this information is no longer a reliable standard for building infrastructure to withstand extreme weather events.

Impact on land transportation

Extreme weather events like heavy precipitation and increased heat cause damage to transportation infrastructure. Heavy precipitation weakens roads and damages soil qualities that support tunnels, highways, bridges, sidewalks, railways, and other infrastructure. Heavy snows and ice can freeze roads, limiting transportation in the frozen areas and damaging the infrastructure. Extreme cold temperature events can also damage underground pipes, which threatens the transport of gas, oil, and/or water. High temperatures can overheat vehicles and cause rail tracks to expand and buckle. Between extreme weather events and increased freeze-thaw cycles, the lifespan of all land transportation systems may decrease.

Impact on air transportation

Heavy rains and storms can delay flights and damage air transportation infrastructure like airports, radar stations, and runways. Extreme heat can also affect the performance of aircrafts and can cause them to restrict cargo and delay and/or cancel flights.

Impact on water transportation

Climate change also impacts water transportation in the Great Lakes area as changing lake and river levels limit the weight, size, and accessibility of ships. Increased precipitation and flooding can create high water levels in rivers, disrupting barge traffic while also causing silt and debris to build up and make channels less accessible. Higher water levels also mean lower clearances under waterway bridges. Inland waterway levels that are expected to decline can result in weight restrictions for ships. Furthermore, extreme weather damages ports and harbors, creating economic impacts for local economies.