New Hampshire Glossary: Frost Heave

No, one of Robert Frost’s relatives is not getting ready to “toss their cookies.”

Instead “frost heaves” are unnatural speed bumps that force us to slow down, or at best risk an auto realignment, at worst a bent wheel.  Frost heaves are a demonstration of man against Mother Nature–and she always wins.

Frost heaves are changes in the earth that result in ground distress such as bumps, potholes, dents, ruptures, cracks and creases.  Usually frost heaves occur in the northern states, but they have been found even as far south as Arizona have produced these features of ground change. Extreme temperature changes (freezing cold being one end of this spectrum) result in expansion and contraction of the ground, often producing these severe pavement ridges, and other damage. In other parts of the world where these ground changes are circular, they are called “frost boils.”

Frost-heaved ground not only affects roads, but also stone faced earth dams, pipeline construction, and even decks and garage/house sheet rock, if they have been built on a concrete slabs that “float” on the soil, rather than being built on frost footings.  Although the existence of frost heaves was first noted in the 1600s, scientific studies of frost heaves did not begin until the twentieth century (1900s).

In 2004 Sports Illustrated writer and Cornwall VT resident, Alexander Wolff, helped bring a pro basketball team to Vermont.  They were aptly named the Frost Heaves.  Their motto: “We’re gonna be the bump in their road.”


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