After spending what seemed like an eternity in the deep freeze, the Rockford area is thawing out a bit this week with some unseasonable temperatures. However, those rising temps sometimes lead to something else falling---chunks of ice.

When you think about your health at this time of year, you generally consider the common cold, the flu bug, or maybe just trying to keep from being frostbitten. We don't often consider another danger of the winter: warmer weather causing ice to melt and fall from high places.

I didn't know this until I began researching this piece, but did you know that around 15 Americans are killed each year by falling icicles and ice chunks? Even more are killed in other countries that deal with a harsh winter. In Russia, for instance, over 1,000 people die every year due to falling ice. The numbers are similar for Norway, Sweden, Finland, and other "Northern" countries.

Here in Illinois, Chicago is ground zero for ice coming off of big buildings and skyscrapers.

CityLab has a partial list of some of Chicago's more horrific incidents:

  • 2011: Assisting a woman whose car window was smashed by falling ice, a paramedic is himself clocked in the kisser by an icicle plummeting from a skyscraper, possibly the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears building). A bystander reports that the man sustained a "severe gash to the head," although he later stabilizes in the hospital.
  • 2010: A woman chatting outside the North Bridge Mall is felled by a speeding chunk of ice. Paramedics swath her head in bandages and pack her away to the hospital. Said a property manager at the mall: "We have our signs warning people but sometimes Mother Nature takes its course."
  • 2008: Icicle gashes a pedestrian walking the Loop. Also, a large piece of ice plunging down from somewhere takes out the windshield of an SUV.
  • 2000: Eight people go the hospital in one day getting on the wrong side of frozen, falling water. One man who cheated death/massive bruising was Sonny Skinner, who told the Associated Press after dodging a four-foot ice caber that he "cringed as shards of ice hit his legs, but then pulled his jacket over his head and ran."
  • 1994: Donald Booth is waiting for a cab on Michigan Avenue when a hunk of ice the "size of a microwave" lands on his head, crushing his skull and spinal column. The 49-year-old man dies. His family later receives $4.5 million in a lawsuit against Neiman-Marcus, the tenant of the building from which the ice came.

Working at a radio station complex with 3 towers on the property, we've been lucky around here to be incident free (at least since I started paying attention in 1983), but radio and TV towers elsewhere have proven to be pretty scary when a thaw and the wind combine to send ice chunks falling.

Then there's this poor choice of a spot to hold a news conference...