Weather’s Impact on Excavation

rainy excavation site

We all like to complain about the weather – especially in Lancaster County where we can sometimes see drastic swings. But few people realize the significant impact that the weather can have on our economy.

We at Horst Excavating know all too well how true this is since ours is a market that is directly affected by weather of all types. No matter if it is rain or snow, hot temperatures or cold, we need to understand how these conditions are going to impact our projects even before they occur and adjust our construction methods accordingly.

Since most construction projects that require sitework or earth moving have a duration that can last at least a few months, and we live in an area that has all four seasons (sometimes in one week), it would be very unlikely for us to make it through a project without the weather commanding our attention.

2018 was a year that put our ability to deal with weather to the test.

2018 – A Record-Setting Year for Rain

2018 was the wettest year on record for Lancaster County and surrounding areas. With a total rainfall of 61 inches, the county experienced 153 days of rain that year, which is more frequent than even Seattle[i]! At times, it felt like there was little reprieve from wet weather. Rainy days turned into rainy weeks, with the longest streak extending 11 days.

If you were in Lancaster in 2018, you remember this wet year. But while everyone noticed, not everyone realized the economic impact it had.

Wet weather can have a significant effect on construction projects, especially the excavating portion. During this wet year, Horst Excavating had to overcome significant challenges thanks to the 61 inches of precipitation we saw (to put that into perspective, that’s nearly a 50% increase from the area’s average rainfall of 41 inches).

So how exactly does weather (whether that’s rain, snow, wind, or even extreme temperatures) impact excavating, and what can excavators do to curb the impact it has on your project?

How Rain Impacts Excavating and Sitework

Construction men and women are hearty people. Working outside in all kinds of conditions is just part of the job. However, if it rains consistently and heavily, some construction work will have to be put on hold until nicer weather returns.

Lost time – both on project schedules and crews’ hours worked – is probably the biggest factor, with the potential for rain to effectively shut down job sites for entire weeks during unusually wet periods. When flooding occurs repeatedly over a short time period, the earth in that area can become over-saturated, making sitework nearly impossible.

Excessive rainfall also has a major effect on equipment, crews, and superintendents. When running in continuously muddy conditions, teams frequently need to stop the equipment and shovel out the tracks to clear them, as well as attending to the construction entrances, fixing the silt fences and scraping mud out of the way. This additional time spent ensuring they can keep moving on a site decreases productivity, increases costs, and can slow a job’s progress.

Many excavators anticipate wet conditions and consider the weather when putting together estimates and planning for a project. However, the weather isn’t always predictable, and rainfall can vary dramatically year to year. 2018 was far wetter than anyone expected, and that made for a difficult year in the excavation industry. Sometimes Mother Nature reminds us who is really in charge.

Wind’s Effect on Excavating and Sitework

From downed powerlines to flying debris, heavy winds can be damaging. Just as is the case with heavy rains, strong and sustained gusts can create challenges on construction projects and can cause delays.

Blowing dirt, dust, and aggregate may require operations on the construction site to stop. Some equipment, like dump trucks, may not be able to operate safely, as strong gusts could cause tipping or blow the truck’s loads.

It’s important that excavators take the necessary precautions to ensure everyone stays safe during heavy winds. Tasks that are dangerous in windy conditions should be put on hold, but with preplanning and problem-solving, the project can continue smoothly once the troublesome conditions “blow” over.

How Excavating and Sitework Can be Impacted by Extreme Temperatures

Both extremely cold and extremely hot temperatures can impact excavating as well. Cold weather and ice can damage water pipes and equipment if they not properly protected. If the cold weather is accompanied by snow, sometimes work won’t be able to continue until the snow is removed. While hard, frozen earth likely won’t stop your project altogether, it may take longer for the team to accomplish their task.

Additionally, working in very hot or cold environments can present health hazards if workers are not taking the proper safety precautions. Bundling up in cold weather can make workers feel bulky and awkward, slowing down the speed at which they work. In extremely warm weather, too much physical exertion and not staying hydrated can be dangerous, meaning workers may have to work at a slower pace to remain safe.

While some winters are colder, and some summers are hotter, experienced excavating teams are accustomed to working in extreme temperatures and plan around these potential delays.

How to Avoid or Minimize Weather-Related Project Delays

If you’re in the Mid-Atlantic region or an area of the country where the changing of the seasons means a big change in the weather, it’s likely – and completed normal – for the weather to stop work on your project. While you can’t control the weather, you can control who you chose for your project team.

Partnering with an experienced excavator who is accustomed to planning for and dealing with weather is crucial to your project’s success. Horst Excavating has dealt with many unpredictable weather events since it first began in 1961. Having learned from those past challenges, Horst Excavating knows how important it is to plan for the unexpected. With these contingency plans, we can handle mother nature’s curveballs with flexibility, and we’ll quickly get your project back on track.

2018’s record rainfall put Horst Excavating’s ability to handle adverse weather to the test, and we came out of it with all our projects completing successfully. While we could not have planned for such a wet year, our experienced and dedicated team had what they needed to adapt on the fly and keep our projects running smoothly and safely.

excavating effect on weather

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This post was originally published in October 2018 and was updated in April 2020.