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Frost boils – the reason for emergency road restrictions

A large frost boil erupted on Ferndale Terrace (January 18, 2017). Photo: Discover Ferndale

“Frost boil” is not a term heard often in the Pacific Northwest since they only occur while the ground beneath roads thaw after freezing.

Frost boils are caused by the upheaval of moisture and soil from the weight of vehicles driving over a road causing the surface to rise up and break apart creating a driving hazard. They are common occurrences in regions with seasonal spans of subfreezing temperatures.

Ferndale has not had to deal with frost boils since 2008 according to Ferndale Public Works Supervisor Bo Westford. In 2008, the impact was limited and did not require closing any streets, Westford said. But this year, there have already been two street closures plus several instances of frost boils small enough to be marked with warning cones without needing to close the street.

There had been reports of new frost boil damage overnight that Westford was heading out to check this morning. He expressed concern the situation might get worse before it got better.

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Traffic on the roads, both heavy and standard passenger vehicles, can cause frost boils to “pop.” According to Westford, “This is why the emergency weight restrictions were put into place. We were hoping to allow the water enough time to disperse before the frost boils could pop.”

Older roads are most vulnerable since they often lack adequate drainage to keep water from collecting and freezing under the road surface.

 

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