The risk of sink holes in central North Carolina - WNCN: News, Weather

The threat of sink holes in central North Carolina

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Dr. Kenneth Taylor with the North Carolina Geological Survey said sink holes don't happen often in central North Carolina, but are not unheard of. Dr. Kenneth Taylor with the North Carolina Geological Survey said sink holes don't happen often in central North Carolina, but are not unheard of.
Pipe collapses cause the most sink holes in central North Carolina. Pipe collapses cause the most sink holes in central North Carolina.
RALEIGH, N.C. -

The images have been frequent in the news in 2013 -- cars engulfed in a hole in the road, gaping holes in the earth, even a living room vanishing into the ground.

The culprit? Sink holes. 

Last month, flooding rains in Chicago caused a sink hole that swallowed several cars. In March, a 43-year-old Illinois man fell into an 18-foot sink hole on a golf course. And the most dramatic example of late was the sink hole that swallowed a Florida man and his living room

How much of a risk do sink holes pose in central North Carolina? Dr. Kenneth Taylor, with the North Carolina Geological Survey, said they don't happen often, but are not unheard of. 

"For central North Carolina, having the ground open up beneath your feet is incredibly rare," Taylor said. 

Raleigh has seen two examples of sinkholes since the start of 2010. That March, a water main break on Millbrook Road caused a sink hole that took down a city bus. That September, another water main break opened a sink hole on Wade Ave. 

"Where you have, for example, a culvert, a pipe, a conduit for carrying water underneath a road and the pipe collapses," Taylor said. 

When that pipe collapses, the ground above it falls into the pipe, taking the road with it. This type of sink hole is the most common in North Carolina. 

Larger sink holes, like the one in Florida, is called an over-collapse sink hole. Areas with an abundance of limestone, like the coast of North Carolina, sees these more often. Limestone is easily broken down by moving water. 

Water moving in the ground from rain fall or underground rivers slowly erodes limestone, exposing caverns beneath.

"What happens is limestone is melted, it melts to the bottom," Taylor said. "And when that little cap of rock fails above it, it creates a sinkhole."

Even in limestones areas along the North Carolina coast see pipe collapses as the main cause of sink holes. 

The North Carolina Department of Transportation often relies on drivers for help with sink holes. 

"If they've been traveling along a road for some time and hey there's a dip there now, that may be a concern," said Steve Abott, a communications officer with the DOT. "And if they see something, we'd appreciate them calling and letting us know, and we will go out and look at it."

Jeremy Baker

WNCN's weekend meteorologist, Jeremy delivers your Saturday and Sunday forecasts. He brings a vast amount of severe weather experience from all over the country.  More>>

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