A pothole, or chuckhole, is a defect in a roadway caused by environmental factors such as ice, heat, and rain. Natural forces eat away at the roadway, creating a series of cracks. As the cracks start to grow deeper, chunks of pavement material separate, and are pulled out by the wheels of passing vehicles. The resulting hole in the surface of the road is known as a pothole: if it overtakes the boundaries of the roadway and starts to erode the dirt below, it is known as a sinkhole.
The origins of the term “pothole” are probably related to the characteristic shape, which is roughly circular and pot like. The term is also used by geologists to refer to natural erosion processes on rocks and in rivers which form basins. It is also used in some parts of the Western United States to describe a dirt or mud wallow used by cattle and pigs. All of the meanings of the word are clearly related, as they all describe pits or holes in a surface.
A pothole is the natural result of environmental conditions, especially in northern areas where the roadway freezes. When the road freezes, it expands, which will cause cracks. Extreme heat can also degrade the quality of the roadway. When combined with the heavy wear and tear of a multitude of vehicles, a pothole can form very rapidly. If it rains, the growth of the pothole will be accelerated, as the water will eat away at the bottom and sides of the pothole.
Potholes negatively affect driving conditions, because they make the road more coarse and bumpy. As chunks of pavement are pulled out, the pothole will grow every larger and deeper, and can spread quickly across the entire roadway if it is not quickly addressed. For this reason, road crews regularly inspect the road to monitor signs of potholes and arrest their growth if they are discovered.
Road crews fix a pot hole by filling it with replacement pavement material. Cold patches are used for small potholes in lightly trafficked areas because they can be quickly applied. Hot asphalt is used in high traffic areas or on large potholes, because it will hold much more effectively. If the road has become pitted with potholes, it may need to be resurfaced. Resurfacing a roadway involves stripping the upper layers of asphalt off, roughening the bottom layers, and applying a new upper roadway surface.