Winter creates new menace as ice falls from high-rises
By Verena Dobnik, AP Thursday, February 20, 2014, 12:20 am TWN
NEW YORK--City dwellers battling one of the most brutal winters on record have been dealing with something far more dangerous than snow falling from the sky: ice tumbling from skyscrapers.
Streets around New York's new 1 World Trade Center, the nation's tallest building, were recently closed when sheets of ice were seen shearing from the face of the 1,776-foot structure — turning them into potentially deadly, 100-mph projectiles.
And sidewalks around high-rises in cities big and small have been cordoned off with yellow caution tape because of falling icicles and rock-hard chunks of frozen snow, a situation that experts warn could get worse over the next few days as a thaw sets in over much of the country.
"The snow starts to melt and the liquid drips off and makes bigger and bigger icicles, or chunks of ice that break off skyscrapers," said Joey Picca, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in New York, which has had 48.5 inches of snow this winter and several cycles of freeze and thaw.
"Be very, very aware of your surroundings," he said. "If you see ice hanging from a building, find another route. Don't walk under hanging ice."
Some architects say newer, energy-efficient high-rises may actually be making the problem worse.
"They keep more heat inside, which means the outside is getting colder and that allows more snow and ice to form." said engineer Roman Stangl, founder of the consulting firm Northern Microclimate in Cambridge, Ontario.
Stangl helps developers opt for shapes, slope angles and even colors — darker colors absorb more melting sunrays — to diminish ice formation. High-tech materials can be also be used, such as at Tokyo's Skytree observation tower, where heaters were embedded in the glass to melt the ice.
Such options are not always possible in older cities with balconies, awnings and stone details.
Barry Negron said he saw ice hanging perilously off a four-story building near Rockefeller Center last month and was trying to warn other pedestrians when he was hit in the face with a sharp, football-size chunk. Cuts across his nose and cheek required 80 stitches.
"I panicked because I saw blood on my hands, and more coming down," said the 27-year-old salesman. As he lay on the pavement, "I heard two young ladies yelling, 'Oh, my God, oh my God, help! There's a lot of blood!'"
Since then, he's nervous when he walks around the city and has seen other near-hits. "I look at my scars, and I say, 'Why did this have to happen to me?'"
Exactly how many pedestrians are hit by falling ice is not clear, but dozens of serious injuries are reported annually.
It's a perennial problem in St. Petersburg, Russia, where dozens reportedly are injured or killed every year.
Seven people were hurt in 2011 near Dallas when huge sheets of ice slid off the roof of Cowboys Stadium. Fifteen people were injured in 2010 by a shower of ice from the 37-story Sony Building on New York's Madison Avenue.
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