Look Out Below! The Hazards of Falling Ice
In ancient times, man was probably fearful of the sky. Not the sky specifically, but rather the vast expanse of nothingness which hovered above him – as if it were waiting to send down powerful forces that would annihilate him in an instant.
Today, mankind knows better. However, there are still unseen objects that sometimes appear to fall from the heavens this time of year, and they wreak havoc on those who are unfortunate enough to be below them.
Beware of falling ice and icicles!
Yes, Icicles Can Be Deadly
This is no idle threat. Statistics indicate that 15 Americans die from “icicle-related accidents” each year, and in Russia, about 100 such deaths are reported annually. Some of these deaths can be pretty gruesome. In addition, countless people are also injured by either icicles or blocks of ice that fall from even a few stories high.
This time last year, New York City authorities had to close some streets around the World Trade Center due to the potential of falling ice. In 2010, 15 people were injured by ice falling from the 37-story Sony Center om Madison Avenue. And it’s not just northern cities that have to worry; seven people were hurt by falling ice in 2011 outside Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Again, the ice doesn’t have to fall from tall structures in order to cause damage. Icicles detaching from two-story homes or multi-story apartment buildings can often be enough to cause lacerations, head injuries, broken bones, and death in rare cases. In addition, dripping water from melting icicles may pool on the ground below and refreeze, creating a serious slip-and-fall hazard.
How Are Icicles Created?
Icicles form when the heat from inside a residential or commercial building partially melts ice or snow on the roof. The water then attaches to an eave, windowframe, or gutter and freezes again, which creates an icicle in a relatively short period of time. Icicle formation is more common (and dangerous) in milder winter weather conditions, when the sun warms the area enough to melt the ice during the day but gives way to freezing temperatures at night.
Avoiding Icicle Accidents
The best way to avoid being hurt by a falling icicle is to constantly be aware of your surroundings. If possible, avoid walking under roof overhangs during the winter. If you must do so, look up and take notice of any icicles that have formed. Never stand still underneath a roof where icicles are present. And when walking in an urban environment where tall buildings are the norm, know that ice tends to drop between five and ten feet away from the sides of the structure. Finally, if you see ice falling from a building, steer clear of it at all costs.
Getting Rid of Icicles On Your Home
If icicles present a falling hazard near your home, then you may try to carefully remove them. Climb up a ladder that is either freestanding or is not leaning against a gutter or icy area (if possible, get someone to hold the ladder). While steadying yourself on the ladder, use a hammer, ice pick, or your hands to gently break off part or all of the icicle, then remove as much excess ice from the area as you can. If the icicle won’t budge, don’t force it, otherwise, you might take part of your gutter or roof off with it. In some cases, it may be wiser to cordon off the area underneath the icicle until it thaws enough that it can be removed or you can call in a professional to take care of the problem.
Statistically speaking, you’re about twice as likely to die from a lightning strike as you are from a falling icicle. That doesn’t mean you should ignore the threat completely. You should exercise a bit of caution when walking in or near icicle-rich environments. After all, you don’t want to be the one person who gets hurt (or killed) just because you never looked up.
Written by Del Thebaud