The Hoosierist: Big Bang Theory

Illustration by Ryan Johnson

Q: A few years ago, manhole covers were exploding all over downtown. How did they solve that problem? A: From 2010 to 2015, downtown Indy was plagued by a problem that sounds like it was lifted from a Looney Tunes short—underground explosions in Indianapolis Power & Light tunnels caused manhole covers to launch into the sky like missiles. By some miracle, no one was ever injured, but planners were terrified there might be a blowout while the city hosted the Super Bowl in 2012. The problem was temporarily “solved” by locking down the covers around Super Bowl Village. IPL says the explosions were caused by electrical shorts that ignited volatile gases that accumulated underground. By increasing inspection of its lines and installing more locking covers, IPL seems to have permanently ended the problem—for them, at least. In 2018, a sewer line explosion sent a lid crashing into a minivan.

Q: It doesn’t seem like Indiana winters are as cold as they once were. Is there any evidence to back this up? A: Boy, is there ever. Purdue University’s Climate Change Research Center recently served up a report confirming what anyone who has ever started planting their tomatoes in April already intuitively knows: It’s getting warm around here. The reason people plant gardens earlier is because the frost-free season has grown by nine days since 1895. Should this trend continue, by the end of the 21st century, Southern Indiana will have the same climate range as Northern Alabama does now. If this sounds like an absolute win, think again. The warmer temps will allow mosquitoes to live longer. We’ve also seen a 5.6-inch precipitation increase in Central Indiana, which means more flooding. Worst of all, warmer winters mean even hotter summers. So get ready to put your overworked air conditioner to the test.

Q: I hear the Army doesn’t buy many Indiana-made HUMVEEs anymore. Why? A: From the 1980s to the early 2000s, the Humvee was the U.S. military’s battle bus of choice. Built by South Bend–based AM General, its performance during Operation Desert Storm made it as popular as the pumped-up action-movie stars of the same era. But a critical weakness was found during our invasion of Iraq—it wasn’t bomb–resistant. It has since been replaced by the Oshkosh Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV). But this isn’t the death knell for the Humvee, which our military still fields by the thousands. For one thing, it’s much cheaper than the JLTV, which starts at $430,000. And while it might not be suitable for stopping a Russian invasion, it’s plenty good enough for, say, patrolling national parks. 

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