AFTER one of the most brutal winters on record, New Yorkers are now facing something worse than snow – deadly slabs of ice plummeting from the city’s skyscrapers.
Several streets around New York’s new 1 World Trade Center, the nation’s tallest building, were closed this week when wind-blown sheets of dagger-shaped ice hit the pavement near the 1,776-foot structure. Frightened pedestrians ran for cover. The streets reopened by mid-afternoon.
Barry Negron, 27, said he saw ice hanging precariously off a four-storey building near the Rockefeller Center and was trying to warn other pedestrians when he was hit in the face with a sharp, football-sized chunk. Cuts across his nose and cheek required 80 stitches.
“I panicked because I saw blood on my hands, and more coming down,” said Mr Negron, who was thrown to the ground. “I heard two young ladies yelling, ‘Oh, my God, oh my God, help! There’s a lot of blood!’ ”
Elsewhere in the US, in states that have been in the grip of wintry weather for months, pavements around high-rise buildings have been cordoned off with yellow caution tape because of falling icicles and rock-hard chunks of frozen snow.
Experts warn conditions 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 since the start of the year.
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.
Mr Stangl helps developers choose shapes, slope angles and even colours – darker colours absorb more melting sun rays – to diminish ice formation.
Hi-tech materials can 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.
Exactly how many pedestrians are struck by falling ice is not clear, but dozens of serious injuries are reported annually. Ice is a perennial problem in St Petersburg in Russia, where dozens of people are injured or killed every year. Seven people were injured in 2011 near Dallas, in Texas, when huge sheets of ice slid off the roof of Cowboys Stadium. Fifteen people were hurt in 2010 by a shower of ice from the 37-storey Sony Building on New York’s Madison Avenue.
Outside Chicago’s 100-storey John Hancock Center last month, people scrambled with backpacks and purses over their heads to avoid falling ice.
On Tuesday, signs warning pedestrians of falling ice stood outside nearly every skyscraper and other tall building downtown as temperatures pushed above freezing for the first time in weeks.
“This happens all over the country, all over the world, in cold climates,” said architect Chris Benedict, who takes account of ice build-up when designing new structures.