Death by icicle

falling ice signWe were looking out the office window this afternoon at icicles hanging from the roof and, of course, had only one thought: can you really die from a falling icicle?

Considering the ongoing deep freeze, this seemed like a question that needed answering.

We've heard jokes/warnings about this for years. But, you know, really? Does that actually happen to people? So we decided to do a little research. And it turns out the answer is: yes.

Not that it seems all that common -- except maybe in Russia. It sounds like multiple people get clocked each year in Moscow by falling icicles that are "many meters" long. And just last winter there were reports out of a central Russian city that six people died over the span of three days from falling icicles.

That kind of untimely end seems much more rare here in the US. Apparently Chicago is especially prone to the problem -- maybe it's all the wind. (The sign in the picture on the right is from Chicago.) That last linked article also mentions that Minneapolis and New York City sometimes have this problem.

But all the news stories we turned up were basically anecdotal evidence. So we went searching through PubMed for something a little more systematic. We found one article on the subject -- but we couldn't get access to the text of it. Though maybe the title of the paper, published out of Turkey this past December, says it all: "Falling ice and snow masses: A rare mechanism of injury." Update: Check out Friendly Local Librarian's quick summary of the article.

By the way, the best -- and by best, we mean worst -- story we found about death by icicle came from a 1903 edition of the New York Times (emphasis added):

CASSOPOLIS, Mich., Jan. 27 -- Charles Daniels, a volunteer during the Spanish war, and since that time a policeman here, was killed last night by a huge icicle which fell upon him as he was making rounds and cut off the top of his head.

photo: Flickr user Jason McHuff

Comments

I went to Champlain College in Burlington, and we had this building that served as the library, among other things. Apparently it was designed by someone from a warmer climate who did not take into account the fact that snow and ice will slide off a steep roof. The building was huge, and three or four stories tall, and the parking lot was right up against the side of the building. I was told the first winter after the building was completed, a large amount of ice fell off and pretty much crushed a car.

In the years I was there, they closed off the parking lot and sidewalks around the building to prevent crushing more cars and/or students ;)

I grew up in Chicago and Minneapolis, and yes, maiming by icicle happens more often than you would think. In fact, I remember being repeatedly reminded that icicles are not a lovely, picturesque part of winter, but rather lethal weapons intent to kill us dead. When I was young, I just thought adults said this to be mean and were keeping the fun of knocking icicles off the gutters to themselves, but I eventually learned the truth. Now I keep a broom by the door, just in case one appears. Constant vigilance!

Call up the Mythbusters. It seems like this should have been something they've covered already, but if not, you could help keep 'em in business!

My car got totaled by an icicle from the roof of my house (in Pine Hills) on Christmas Eve. I think if a person had been there they would have been seriously injured and perhaps killed.

My mom's car got attacked on Christmas day by this vicious menace. Christmas spirit indeed!

I don't know... they can look pretty ominous :)

Heehee her comment beat me to it.

It was covered already by mythbusters


http://mythbustersresults.com/special1

I have about a 1/2 inch scar right above my lip, under my nose, where an icicle fell and sliced through, I was very lucky I didn't lose an eye. I was around 5 at the time and was of course trying to knock icicles off the roof.

An icicle totaled my friends' VW bug in Schenectady in 1979.

And it's the perfect murder weapon: http://tinyurl.com/8nh4tn

I have read about many freak accidents. In my opinion, if it's sharp enough and if it builds up enough momentum to impale someone, then yes, an icicle can possibly kill. Like the commentators have said, if it can crush a car, imagine the effect it would have on a human being.

A few informative niblets from the Turkish article, courtesy of the RPI Libraries:

"Forty-seven patients injured from falling ice and snow masses were admitted to the Emergency Department (ED) of Aziziye Research Hospital of Ataturk University, Erzurum, Turkey, between November 2004 and March 2005."

"Most injuries (85%) occurred between 1:00 and 3:00 p.m." They attribute this to the snow/ice melting enough to fall off buildings.

"There were 45 blunt and two penetrating traumas." So, it seems that a malicious icicle is more likely to clonk you than to spear you.

"The mortality rate was 8.5% (4 patients). Three of these patients had head injuries and one had a grade IV liver injury."

"In cases with fatal outcome and severe organ injuries, ice masses had fallen from the fourth story of a building or higher. The increase of injury severity and the number of injuries were directly related to the increase in the height of the fall."

A pretty small sample size, but interesting to be sure.

I live next to a very tall church, and ice chunks from their roof smashed one of my solar garden lights. It's pretty scary-- some are chunks the size of bricks. I worry for my dog sometimes.

Happens all the time. When i was in finland i saw massive blocks of ice and snow fly off of roofs. You soon learn not to walk any where near where the stuff could fall

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