Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Somebody Call Mythbusters!

Since the Minnesota Vikings football team is too boring to examine in any cursory detail, let's probe a more pertinent question: could a man survive the Great Metrodome Snow Dump of 2010?

After looking at this video more than a few dozen times, from various sources, I think that's not a fatal snow dump we are looking at.

Oh, I wouldn't volunteer for an experiment. Not even with Mark Kelso's helmet on, and Tony Siragusa standing over me.

But I think you'd live.

Here's why.

People survive avalanches, don't they? Of course. All the time. How is this anything more than just a smaller, vertical avalanche?

Yes, the cumulative weight of all that snow is tons.

But what would actually hit a standing human being would be a mere fraction of it. Assuming you don't get your head gashed open by a massive ice chunk (let's call that 50-50) that snow dump would knock your ass down, fuck you up good, and leave you more groggy than Ke$ha the morning after a night out with the NY Knicks.

But you'd live.

I believe that. I've seen internet videos of dudes getting crushed and smoked by runaway cars, trapped in horrible train and elevator accidents.

Not fun. Not pretty. They won't be running marathons anytime soon. But they lived.

Don't underestimate the human body, people. It is one resilient mo-fo!


Of course, not everyone agrees.

Dear Czabe:

Let me just start by saying I love your show. That is equivalent to someone saying "No offense" right before calling someone's mother a whore.

Your comments this morning about being able to survive standing directly underneath the MetroDome's collapsing snow might have been the dumbest thing I have ever heard anyone utter on your show. Keep in mind you do provide Al Galdi a microphone that he can actually speak into. You don't have to look this up on Wikipedia, but science tells us that snow is made out of frozen water. Anyone who understands physics would be able to surmise that TONS of a falling object, no matter what it is, descending several hundred feet through a FIBERGLASS roof would cause you an extreme case of DEATH. Your argument that the snow would be a dissipating impact on your bald head as it fell makes about as much sense as one of Paul Charchian's jokes (and is actually more laughable).

By the time the snow has reached you, it has achieved close to terminal velocity, which would cause a severe impact of a nearly solid material - causing massive trauma to your head, internal organs and also suffocating you as you lay unconcious in a pile of pure white Minnesota snow. Please do some moderate thinking before you make such a bold prediction of survival, then again, your record when it comes to stone cold, lead pipe locks is indicative of the lack there of.

Adam in Richmond


  1. Well here's the problem with Czabe's argument about surviving an avalanche. A large part of the motion in an avalanche is lateral not vertical. So while a car driving down a steep hill and hitting you might be survivable, that same car being dropped on you (assuming you were standing) would be far more lethal.

  2. Czabe, I think it would make a great Mythbusters show, actually. I think it would come down to the thickness of one's skull in the end, since I do agree that the human body is a resilient mo-fo and you might flop around alot, but assuming you could breathe you'd probably make it. Your skull would just have to survive the initial brunt. Using football TV personalities as examples, I think Terry Bradshaw and Howie Long would survive just fine, whereas Tony Dungy and Cris Collinsworth would have a tougher go at it. Shannon Sharpe and Pam Oliver would laugh and ask if they could go on the ride again.

  3. I think what separates this from an avalanche is that on a mountain, you move with the snow. you have room to absorb the impact. true, you might survive getting hit by a car going 50mph, but not if your standing against a brick wall when that car hits you going 50.

  4. shit I just realized the duck had that covered

  5. I think it would be possible to survive an accident like that, but I would still say you are at a very high risk of dying. One area of the human body Steve left out of his argument, which is the most critical after the head, is the neck and spine. It is very possible you would have your neck broken in an accident like this and thus leaving you at great risk of dying.

    Though I have to admit, I would like to see Buster get crushed under tons of snow in Mythbusters to find out what would happen.

  6. The real key is how densely packed the snow mass was. If, as it seems, it was still fairly powdery, you could easily survive, but if it had clumped up as denser wetter snow or worse, icy chunks, then you are DOA.

  7. Snow reaching terminal velocity? If that's the case why aren't millions of people killed when it snows? Uh, how about air friction! Plus, it's freakin' snow! Most of the time it's very light. It all depends on the water content of the snow. A wet, sloppy snow will be heavier then light, fluffy snow.

    I say you would survive as long as it was a light snow with no ice chunks. It's not all that "tons of snow" are going to fall directly on your head.

  8. James and HoMade are on the right path.

    Definition -
    Terminal Velocity is the maximum speed an object can accelerate due to the combination of gravity and wind resistance.

    If the snow is dense hard pack, then the terminal velocity is higher, and the snow/ice itself will weigh more.

    Force = Mass * Acceleration

    If it is still light and powerdery, then both the mass and the velocity are lower. Which is why you do fine in a snow storm, but better be inside during hail.

    (This assumes you aren't hit in the head with a steel beam. Then you are FUBAR by the Rebar.)

  9. I agree with most that the blunt force trauma of the tightly packed snow would probably kill a person instantly. But I too would love to see it attempted "Mythbusters" style. Preferably if the crash test dummy is made to resemble Albert Haynesworth. Or LeBron James. I'm not picky.

  10. James and Edge are both wrong. It won't matter if the snow is lightly packed or not. The snow will be coming down in one giant plop like someone sitting on the can. One snow flake doesn't hurt you because it never reaches terminal velocity which is based on a the argument Edge provides. However, the snow will be in one group and not as an individual snowflake. And because it is coming down all at one time given the failure of the roof means an individual would be getting hit by what amounts to a slegehammer - the weigh of the 2 feet of snow on the roof times the area that the snow hits a person's head.

    Game over.

  11. Here's an indication of the amount of weight involved in the collapse. IT COLLAPSED THE G** DAMN ROOF. Czabe, maybe you're not "in the know" on this, but this isn't the first time it's snowed in MN. This IS however the first collapse. That should give you an idea of the gravity involved here. You don't want to get in between that mass and it's final destination. If it collapsed the roof it's a f**kton of snow. And as far as packed or not, it was funneled, so the packed status is somewhat irrelevant. The fact that it "spread" speaks more to the force than the density. There is a chance of survivability (as there is even when getting shot in the face) but let's call it "statistically insignificant".

  12. Czabe -- I'm totally with you on the whole "it'd make an awesome Mythbusters episode" part.

    That's where the agreement ends.

    Let's say for a minute that only a top-of-a-human shaped pile of snow, 8 feet tall, landed on your head. It'd be about the same weight as an 8-foot tall human -- except HEAVIER! We're only 80% water, and we're not frozen -- freezing water compresses it, making it heavier! So, what you're essentially saying is, you'd survive by having Wilt Chamberlain dropped 100 feet down on top of your head? Are you nuts?

    Oh, and your "dissapation" theory is a sack of crap too, donkey. What happens when you throw a snowball at someone? Yeah, it "dissapates", AFTER it has struck an object.

    But, even being rather certain about this, I'd still like to see the Mythbusters give it a go. Anyone e-mail them yet?

  13. Czabe--I'm with the guys who think that this might be the dumbest thing you've ever said on air. Accepting your notion that the relevant measure is the weight of the snow in a 3-foot cylinder piled 8 feet high, the math is simple: volume of a cylinder is pi times radius squared x height = 3.14 x 2.25 x 8 = 56.5 cubic feet. I know there's disagreement about weight and density, but a little googling suggests that snow (alone, no ice) weighs somewhere between 15 and 70 pounds per cubic foot. Result: the cylinder of snow weighs somewhere between 840-3920 pounds. Quite a range. But that's only mass. You haven't yet considered acceleration. Won't even speculate there, other than to say that I don't really think it matters much. Even an 840 pound object traveling at modest velocity packs enough wallop to produce fatal blunt force trauma. (Ask the Milwaukee guy who walked under the refrigerator pushed from the fourth floor of a building yesterday. Oh, wait--he's dead now.) Your avalanche example is inapposite: what counts in F=ma is RELATIVE velocity, which is why skiers can "swim" through avalanches without fatal trauma. FINALLY, the whole force argument is almost certainly fatal. If the pile of snow that knocked you down and buried you were more than, say 5 feet deep, you're pinned to the ground (see calculations above re weight) and you die from asphyxia. Give up now, Czabe.

  14. I as guessing I am the only one with a physics degree around here ...

    Duck - The term you are looking for is mass not gravity. The fact that it could funnel and did not fall as one solid piece is evidence that it still had a powdery make up. The spread is due to the lower terminal velocity and the random direction due to interactions with air.

    A snow ball is packed snow ... and actually a good example. A handfull of snow throw doesn't get very far and has almost no force when you are hit by it. A normal snow ball can be thrown far and can sting when it hits. An ice ball can be throw almost as far as a baseball. It can knock you out when if it hits you in the head.

    Matt - Water / Ice is the exception to solids being heavier than liquids. It's why ice floats. (It has to do with the hydrogen bonding nature of water.) Until Ice gets VERY cold (think minus 150 C) it is ligher than water.

    Michael - You are making two false assumptions. Your math is correct, but discounting acceleration is not trivial. The speed of the falling snow is the key peice. In your 840 lb example you are assuming 1 peice of snow hitting you at the speed of a falling man (about 140 mph, if I remember correctly.) A single snow flake is not falling at 140 mph.

    I don't know if it would kill you, Mythbusters would be great. The two open questions is how fast is the snow falling, and what would be the effective mass of the snow.

  15. Please! Please! Please! some Physics Nerd out there get on this. You've got HD video to study from several different angles. You have a regulation lined football field to give perspective----the rest is just MATH.

  16. Bob -- it's a lot harder than "just math". I'm pretty decent at math, but the problem is that there is too much to account for to just throw some numbers at it. You could alter either variable that Edge mentions, and skew the results drastically.

    Come on, Adam and Jamie, where are you? :)

  17. Matt -

    I am not sure Adam or Jamie listen to CZABE on a regular basis. Czabe in not on the air in SF, where they are based. Would be shocked if they were reading the web site.

  18. Yeah, was more sarcasm than anything else. Besides, even if they did get this, it will probably take a year for them to put it on TV.

  19. Consider the Mythbusters called:


  20. Your comparison to an avalanche would only be valid if you were to stand against a tree and let the avalanche hit you in the face.

    Remember: Gravity is a bitch that is waiting to kill you!

  21. CSTIMART - Gravity doesn't kill people ... Massive Objects Kill People.

    It's similar to guns don't kill people, bullets kill people.

  22. Edge: Putting aside the question of the initial trauma--which seems to me to be interesting but not relevant--do you agree that, once the snow comes to rest with you under it, you're dead anyway? Any calculation of snow volume is speculation (by me, at least). But the reports of snowfall and ambient conditions suggest to me a snow depth on the roof before the collapse of at least one foot. If only the portion of the roof covering the field itself were piled to this depth, that's just under one acre-foot of snow: roughly 43,000 cubic feet. I know it's not ALL piled directly atop you, but velocity is irrelevant at the point that you're anywhere near the center of a 43,000 cubic foot pile of snow. A little quick math using the video (which suggests a radius of about 15 yards for the main pile) and the formula for volume of a cone suggests a stationary snow pile, at its peak, well over 10 feet high. Now we're talking about stationary mass of more than a half ton (even with the lightest snow) on top of you. Unless you have gills (that can absorb oxygen from frozen water, I might add) or a VERY long straw, you are dead.

  23. @Edge, I meant gravity as it is the force that pulls the mass downward. So when I said "the gravity here" I meant force of the fall. The funnel comes into play when you factor that snow from the rest of the roof is both pooling and moving toward the opening (as the roof collapses) so it's not just the fall of what was sitting directly on the opening, it's the pseudo-avalanche of the area around the opening that is forcing through the new hole in the roof. The spread is due to the density of the snow and ground being strong enough to resist the force of the snow moving downward. Additional evidence that standing beneath the hole would have been fatal. Granted I have no physics degree, but I don't think it requires one to recognize that you would die from this.

  24. alright, from what I can unscientifically gather.... the height of the metrodome is 195ft. Given that the roof was caving in before the snow fell ( it looks like it had caved to at least half of its height so I will error on the side of caution) and say the snow was falling from 100ft. It took between 2-3 seconds for the snow to reach the ground, so say it would have taken about 2 seconds to hit someone standing beneath it. So the snow fell at about 50ft/sec. (50ft/5280 ft/mile x 60sec per min x 60min per hour) snow was traveling at about 34mph.
    To continue, I end up with the acceleration being approximately 7.5m/s^2 (the physicist will know this better than me and I assumed the initial velocity was 0, although the roof was caving in so it might have been above 0.). I too some estimating on this part, but it looks like the bulk of the snow fell over a 20 yd x 20 yd area. So if the snow was a solid column (and yes I know it wasn’t) it would be 18m x 18m x 30m = 9720 m^3. (approx 1ft = 0.3m) The density of snow ranges between 100 and 500 kg/m^3. so if you have 9720 m^3 that give a mass between 972,000kg and 4,860,000kg of the entire column of snow.
    The column wasn’t an entire solid block, so if a person was standing underneath it their head would have been hit by about a 1ft x 1ft x 100ft piece of the column which is about a 2.7m^3 column, so that’s comes to between 270 and 1350 kg of snow falling on the person’s head (if the entire column was solid and hit at one time). This generates about 2025-10125N of force (for the entire column as one unit). The average failure for a human neck (of the average man) is 4500N, NFL players can take about 5440N (stronger neck). Keeping in mind that the column is not solid, I think you can make the argument (if all of my calculations are correct) that there is definitely a chance to survive this injury. Again, I’m not a physicist, and I don’t care about grammar or punctuation.

    http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview/id/434186.html (for compressive force to break neck)

  25. Dale - You did the numbers very well. I think you stated very clearly what some here have been saying ...you can tell. If your low end estimate is correct, you live. If your high end estimate is correct, you die immediately. (Twice the force to break a football players neck, your dead.)

    George - I happen to carry with my a 10 foot straw at all times just in case the roof collapses or therir is an ice cream sunday two tables over ... actually I hadn't thought about if you could survive after the inital snow fall. I don't know enough about how snow falls to make an intellegent answer.

    Duck - I was trying to be funny with my comment... I obviously failed ...

  26. Edge--great comment about the straw. "Now if I have a milkshake and you have a milkshake, and I have a straw--see, there it is--and my straw reaches acr-o-o-o-oss the room, I'll drink your milkshake."

  27. What does it matter anyway. It's all a conspiracy to divert attention from the whole Jen Sterger thing.

  28. Duck -- that's just another myth for Mythbusters!