NEW YORK — City dwellers facing 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.
The West Side Highway and several streets around New York’s new 1 World Trade Center, the nation’s tallest building, were closed during Wednesday’s morning rush hours when wind-blown sheets of dagger-shaped ice hit the pavement near the 1,776-foot structure — shattering potentially deadly, fast-falling projectiles.
The ice attack sent frightened pedestrians running for cover.
The streets reopened by midafternoon.
Around the country, 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 since the start of the year, 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.
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 injured in 2011 near Dallas when huge sheets of ice slid off the roof of Cowboys Stadium.
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