Let me be bold: the weather in Iceland changes often. I’m not trying to start a controversy. I’ll leave that to people discussing deep-water oil drilling (what could possibly happen? I mean, god put it there for us to have). The weather’s tempestuous nature hasn’t stopped tourists from flooding in during the winter months. You can read about all the assholes risking their life in the country–wading into the ocean for a photo or laughing as their children are swallowed by a glacial crevice. Yet, for the more urbane jet-setter, there are hidden dangers in the streets of Reykjavík, falling ice and snow.
I have watched couples walking hand-in-hand down Laugavegur, seemingly oblivious to the height-bound menace. FWAPPPSHHH. DAY RUINED. I will admit: I watch this all day from my office window, and it’s really funny, at least when it’s snowy (blood makes me queasy). However, the neurotic, pathological procrastinator in me, ruminated on this issue all day. How can we solve this problem? Or, at the very least, give people the tools to help themselves. First we have to analyze the issue.
The ice and snow in question are falling from the corrugated sheet metal roofs. I will assert, feel free to counter my claim, that the taller the building, which has a sheet metal roof, the steeper the angle of the roof. Buildings over nine metres tall tend to have roofs angled between 65 and 80 degrees. Whereas, one story buildings, tend to have more shallow slopes–approaching 45 degrees.
I think it’s safe to neglect the coefficient of friction between ice and steel and just discuss the ice or snow when it has come off the edge of the roof. Also, I’m going to neglect falling icicles. I’m dealing with newly fallen snow on roofs sliding off due to wind and temperature changes, not slowly formed icicles falling almost directly down from the edge.
Sources of Error
This is a really rough sketch of a solution with monstrous error bars. The most glaring error is not factoring in wind. However, I will leave it up to you, the people, to know which way the wind blows.
How much time do you have to react? Is it possible to save yourself? Or are you taking your life into your own hands every time you go shopping?
Again, this is rough. The average commercial building in central Reykjavík, I’m assuming, is around four metres from the edge of the roof to the ground–with the roof extending another two metres in height. I’m going to assume the average clump of snow or ice is around two kilos. I won’t be considering the actual impact (elastic for ice, inelastic for snow) and I’m assuming homogeneous consistency for both the ice and snow (think spherical chicken).
As we know from Galileo, or throwing both a fat and less fat baby out a window, everything falls towards the centre of the earth at the same velocity.
The average Icelander is 1.77 metres tall, which is what I will use to find the distance of travel.
Height to edge of roof – height of average person = distance travelled by snow or ice. This will give us our average minimum reaction time.
4 m – 1.77 m = 2.23 m
Here’s what we have:
d (distance travelled) = 2.23 m
vi (initial velocity) = 0 m/s
vf (final velocity at impact) = ?
t (reaction time) = ?
g (accelleration due to gravity) = 9.81 m/s^2
As your memory will serve you, we can use these two kinematic equations:
^2 = vi^2 + 2gd & vf = vi *gt
Solving for vf with the first equation, we get,
vf = (2gd)^1/2
vf = 6.61 m/s
Now with the second we solve for t,
t = (vf – vi)/g
t = 0.674 seconds.
Now the average median reaction time of a human is 0.215 seconds. This suggests you can avoid being hit by ice and snow! Yes!
For the average maximum we add the extra two metres of height. Remember we don’t factor in the horizontal component because horizontal and vertical components are independent. Also, we are assuming a frictionless roof.
t (maximum average reaction time) = 0.930 seconds.
Lots of time!
Avoiding Death From Above (three methods)
1. Human Shield
This is ethically questionable. Can one really argue who deserves pain and who deserves relief? I know who I think should be hit, but if you were walking with me, you’d most likely have a different opinion. You’d most likely be wrong, but I digress.
For the human shield to work, you need to assess the height of your walking partner. Now if you’re shorter, and you don’t want to get hit, walk closest to the street–creating a human shield. Now this goes against any courting manual from the 1950s. Assuming a heterosexual couple, in most cases due to human physiology, the male is taller than the female. General courtesy when walking with loved ones is to stand between the street and them–protecting them from cars and splashing. Trying to maintain these antiquated patriarchal ideas is not only foolish, but dangerous. No longer should couples walk based on gender norms. Safety requires us to define people by their height instead.
However, life is hard for tall people. We are not placed on Earth simply to grab things from shelves and canopy over our short friends like a missile shield. If you are tall, and walking with a short but not necessary loved companion, keep your shoe lace closest to the buildings undone. When you hear the sound of ice and snow sliding, simply tie your shoe. You do not control the elements. This is not your fault.
2. The Mountain Climber/Footloose Montage
Depending on the time of day, you could pull this off. Walk against the buildings–pressing your back against the windows and out stretching your arms. You will look crazy, but we’re all a bit crazy, right? You could give someone a date to remember, imagining yourself climbing up Laugavegur–passing trolls and polar bears.
If you find yourself out a bit later, and a few drinks in, why not make it into a dance montage. You can avoid getting a concussion while looking like you have brain damage. Or, if you like I, dreamt of dancing in the streets as a boy, check off one more item from your bucket list.
3. Listen, Duck, and Run or LDR to make it more incomprehensible.
Always Be Listening or ABL, and when you are ABLing remember to Duck After Hearing or DAH, but don’t just DAH when you ABL, you also need to Run Towards Wall or RTW. And that’s the trick: ABL so you can DAH and RTW–that’s how you LDR. Got it? This isn’t fucking rocket science. It’s common sense guided by an highly imprecise use of Newtonian mechanics.
Is it worth it? The fear? Should you live in a constant state of unease because of something like ice and snow? Us in the media are guilty of hyping fear and creating panic. What’s so bad about a bruised head or a broken nose? Our body is record of a life lived, a map of where we’ve been.
If you assess the likely hood of being hit by snow or ice, it is quite high, but how can we measure the suffering caused by worry? Stress is the number one killer. Creating a tortuous subjective experience, instead of walking innocently beside another and living in the moment, must be worse, right? All we truly experience is what our minds interpret, edit, and display for us in our brain. We may never know objective reality, which is what everyone says, until they get a face full of ice.
I moved to Iceland to get away from my friends and family. I don’t hate them, but I was beginning to think they were stopping me from reaching my full potential. My friends were always showing up at my house and forcing me to have fun. My family was always concerning themselves with my welfare and life choices. I needed, much like Superman, a fortress of solitude, a place far from Canada and, preferably, warmer.
Iceland seemed to be the perfect place. I would be able, much like Superman, to study the history of my adopted ancestors—I’m not Icelandic, but I’m tall and drink like a Viking—and carve out my destiny.
This is my journal.
York Underwood is a journalist, writer and comedian from Canada. He’s currently living in Hafnarfjörður, Iceland, next to a fisheries’ ice house. He’s also trying to learn Icelandic. He makes poor decisions.