John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Falling ice across North America has crushed cars, bloodied pedestrians, started fires, and pancaked a poor dog.
The cold sucks, but there's also a downside to thawing out: ice shards dislodging from their perches and crushing cars and laying pedestrians out in bloody heaps.
Ice-bombs are a seasonal danger in any northern city—in Chicago, it's a tradition to put yellow warning signs at the base of rime-crusted skyscrapers—but this year, they're really falling fast and furious in the United States. That's due to a long-lasting rash of bitter cold and heavy snow, which allowed icicles and rooftop ice dams to grow big and plentiful. (Think of icicles as tall as a four-story building and as thick as an elephant's leg.)
That's not to say the only danger is from large projectiles. AccuWeather meteorologist Steve Wistar notes that even a "half-pound icicle, 3 inches in diameter, falling at this terminal velocity exerts a 1,000-pound force on whatever it hits. People have been seriously injured or killed by such projectiles." The news fortunately has been absent of random icicides, though plenty of other mayhem has occurred (especially in Northeast cities like Boston and Portland, Maine). Here's a wrap-up of the damage:
• On Monday, a homeless man in Boston wandered into the kill zone of a plunging icicle and was authoritatively KO'ed. (He survived.) Reports WHDH-TV:
"I could see there was blood running down his face, there was blood on the ground, head trauma, there's a lot of blood involved," said Tyler Banash, a senior photography major at Point Park University in Pittsburgh, who was working on a thesis project and took photos of the scene.
"He stood up shakily after a while. He was kind of hunkered over," said Banash.
• Falling ice has treated vehicles like a steel-toed boot stomping a tin can. A Fox News assignment editor in Boston shared this picture from a viewer yesterday:
This auto was also hit yesterday by a dinosaur ice block in Cambridge (here's the interior view):
And in late February, half a ton of ice chunks punched through both of a dude's windshields in Portland. Of course, his auto insurer said "insurance doesn't cover an act of nature," writes the Press Herald:
• For a nonflammable substance, hard H2O has proven adept at starting fires. This month alone in Massachusetts, ice falls have ruptured a gas line and sparked a blaze at an Alzheimer's facility, punctured a gas meter and torched a condo complex, and sliced a gas line and forced the evacuation of a medical center. That last incident didn't cause a fire, but this direct hit from an ice missile did, at an office building for the Norfolk County District Attorney:
• There was an outbreak of icy mauling on February 20 in the vicinity of Boston. Here's one woman's experience as narrated in the Boston Globe:
First she heard the cracking sound.
A split-second later, Cheryl Zamaloff's face was sliced by a three-foot-long icicle that gave way from the side of her Milton home.
"It was a pretty big piece," said Zamaloff, estimating it at about 15 pounds. "And there was a pretty large gash."
When she arrived at the emergency room, doctors told her she was the third patient treated that day for an icicle-related injury.
• Last month, a woman in Tewksbury, Massachusetts, let the family dog into the yard. Minutes later, she heard a surprised yap and a thump as ice fell off the roof onto the pooch, a 13-year-old Jack Russell Terrier. NECN provides the rest of the depressing story:
"[My husband] heard him yelp, he heard the crash, like the ice go, and I thought he meant something minor, I wasn't thinking, you know, who would have thought and we went out there and he was just laying there on the ground and I said 'oh no not Kota' and he turned his head and looked at me like 'sorry mom,'" McComber explained.
McComber rushed Dakota to the vet but he didn't make it.
RIP, lil' doggie:
That's not all. To believe Twitter, the media's uncovered just the tip of the crimson-spattered iceberg:
Opened my front door and was knocked out by an icicle... Awesome... There's blood everywhere... Maybe I will sleep it off— Janie Thorne (@MommaThrill) February 22, 2015
Got hit in the eye by a falling icicle last night and popped blood vessels and now I have a shiner! I look hot!— bogguss1981 (@bogguss1981) February 11, 2015
Well. Had an icicle come down right onto my hand. Lots of blood. Can't feel anything though cause my hands are so cold. Swag.— jessica (@stay_foxy) February 2, 2015