In this alternate scenario, for six to ten years, latitudes as far down south as Chicago experience eight to nine months where the daily high barely reaches zero Fahrenheit (−18 degrees Celsius).

The steel of the skyscrapers in this alternate scenario is also different, with carbon consisting of 2.5% of the overall composition.

Now the question is, how does steel react to ice? Does it rust? Crack? Harden? Or something else? And how would a decade of endless cold affect the skyscraper in a preferable Life After People?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Rusting is a chemical reaction; if anything, it will be slowed down by cold temperatures (although I'd guess the effect is negligible). The steel might become brittle, however. $\endgroup$
    – celtschk
    Commented Jan 4, 2016 at 6:52
  • $\begingroup$ This page looks quite relevant to me (I guess the information on other materials found there will be also useful to you). $\endgroup$
    – celtschk
    Commented Jan 4, 2016 at 6:57
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    $\begingroup$ celtschk, you should add some verbiage and submit that as an answer. On a side note, the reason that steel becomes brittle is that at around -40 F/C steel experiences a phase transition from face centered cubic (fcc) crystal structure to body centered cubic (bcc). The former crystal structure tends to be ductile while the latter tends to be brittle. $\endgroup$
    – Jim2B
    Commented Jan 4, 2016 at 15:07
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    $\begingroup$ 2.5% carbon is cast iron. It's brittle and not strong enough for structural use in skyscrapers. Those buildings are doomed anyways. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 4, 2016 at 16:14
  • $\begingroup$ @WhatRoughBeast Adding even half a percent of carbon to the metal makes the steel 2-3 times stronger. So how would raising the percentage make it unsuitable? $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 4, 2016 at 20:39

1 Answer 1


8-9 months where the temperature doesn't get above 0°F? Sounds a lot like Chicago!

Seriously though, it wouldn't do much. Steel does lose strength and become more brittle in really low temperatures, so that you wouldn't want to use a steel hammer at -40. But if it's just sitting there the cold isn't going to affect it much.
Parts of Alaska and northern Siberia in winter generally has worse conditions than what you describe, though those places don't usually have large cities either...

The hard part would be when the weather started to warm a bit, and you get the expansion and contraction going on, the snow and ice melting, etc.
The freeze thaw cycle is what causes the most problems, as water gets into cracks and then expands when it freezes.

6-10 years... without maintenance? Probably get some broken windows, and the steel would start to rust a bit if enough water got inside the buildings, but you probably won't see skyscrapers falling down.
With people keeping the place up? You won't see much difference.


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