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I recently wrote a silly little flash fiction piece in which some party-goers go hide in a bunker under an apartment building in NYC because of a "megablizzard." In said silly flash fiction, I buried the Empire State Building up to its roof in snow in about two weeks. (In my imagination most of the North East is buried almost this high in snow, but not the far south of North America.) Now I'm curious if this is in anyway possible.

My questions are, in a world where snowstorms are gigantic and out of control and the winter never ends or goes above freezing, would this be feasible? Could NYC get so much snow that the Empire State was buried (to the roof: 381 m, not the tip)? How much snow would have to fall in what space of time to bury the Empire State Building to the top? And if so, what would happen to surrounding city? (I mean physically. Obviously everyone would be trapped. There'd be major panic. Transportation would cease. But would buildings be crushed and such?)

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  • $\begingroup$ Wasn't there a wildly popular movie 15 years ago with this exact same scenario? $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Aug 13 '18 at 12:22
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That is a lot of [dang] water you've put into the atmosphere to be snowed down. (3125gal / square foot)

Worldwide, there's about 1/2" in the air at any one time.

Granted, if you've got time, you can pump more water out of the oceans, into the atmosphere and then snow it down. But typically large snowfalls happen in small locales (thus concentrating that average of 1/2" into much bigger heights), and not 'most of N.America'

That said, maybe N.America is getting hit hard, but NYC is getting hit harder.


Crushing: More average snow may weigh 15 pounds per cubic foot and drifted compacted snow may weigh 20 pounds or more.

1250' == 25,000 lbs of snow at the bottom (well, minus a bit if the top isn't compressed, but after the first 10 feet, I'd assume that 150lbs will compress the remainder of the snow).

That'll definitely blow in the doors and windows.

Turns into 173 psi. So not enough to damage cement at the bottom (3000-6000 psi needed). Probably not enough to completely crush your cars either (but probably cave in the roofs, etc).

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  • $\begingroup$ "That'll definitely blow in the doors and windows." That has the very uncomfortable implication that people in small buildings or buildings with lots of windows may be killed by being smothered with snow. $\endgroup$ – Kevin Jan 31 '15 at 4:23
  • $\begingroup$ @Kevin - His assertion is simply not true unless the building were vacant. And since it is the Empire State building, it isn't true. When large amounts of snow hits a building the snow 1-6" (or maybe more with a larger building) melts. The layer closest to the building turns into ice and forms a shield of sorts. Building is pretty safe but the people will even have a harder time getting out. This is just nonsense plug numbers into equations science. $\endgroup$ – blankip Jan 31 '15 at 6:21
  • $\begingroup$ Up to how deep? A mere 24' snowfall would barely start the compression. I don't think anyone's ever seen even 100' of snow come down. You're saying ice doesn't deform under 173 psi? $\endgroup$ – user3082 Jan 31 '15 at 17:58
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    $\begingroup$ I don't think it would blow in the windows at all for a large part of the lower portion of the building. As it accumulates and becomes denser with pressure, snow becomes less deformable gradually, and eventually turns to ice. So while the pressure under the ice would be tremendous, it would exert very little lateral pressure on the windows and doors. Even if a window would break from stress, I doubt the solid ice would suddenly crumble and fill the building. $\endgroup$ – Drunken Code Monkey Jan 31 '15 at 18:47
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No, it is far from possible without human intervention or cheating.

It is not possible to have enough precipitations. In a year, Mawsynram (India) receive about 12m of rain. It could go to maybe 20m on a catastrophic year. That's still very far from the roof of the Empire state building. Let's also add that this is a subtropical climate affected by a strong monsoon. New York is much colder and cold air cannot contain as much water as hot air.

For snow, some on the snowiest places on Earth are located in mid latitude climates like New York. At these latitude, mountains receive a bit more but near sea level the maximum is about 1 or 2 m yearly. Some of the snowiest places are located in Tohoku, Japan. They receive a lot of snow because they are surrounded by water and the temperature are just below freezing.

Is it really impossible? Supposing the winter would never end and that the temperature of the ocean and overland stays about the same. With a succession of cold and hot air masses, each cold front would bring some snow.

New York receive (according to Wikipedia), 23,4cm of snow in the snowiest month of the year. Supposing we could maintain the same conditions indefinitely, I guess we could bury the city. If my calculation is right, at this rate, it would take 135 years to bury it. By that time, the survivors will be long dead. With this estimation, I haven't even taken into account that the snow would be compacted.

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    $\begingroup$ I've actually seen about 1.5m overnight near sea level, at the campus of SUNY Oswego (which is right on the shore of Lake Ontario). Was snowing heavily when I parked my car in the afternoon, when I came out the next morning only the roof was showing. Where I live now (Lake Tahoe area), seeing that much in a good 3-4 day storm isn't at all uncommon. The problem with the OP's idea, apart from the sheer amount, is that that much snow would pack down and turn to glacial ice at ground level. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Jan 31 '15 at 4:45
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    $\begingroup$ Snow is around 10 times the volume of water, so 20m of rain would be around 200m of snow. $\endgroup$ – mskfisher Jan 31 '15 at 14:02
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Would this be feasible?

The highest annual snowfall in Central Park was about 75 inches (in 1995-96). During this year, 26 inches fell during the month of January. That is about a whopping 1/580th of the height of the Empire State Building.

What would happen to the surrounding city?

It would be crushed. The density of snow is about 30% that of water when compacted (it would likely be much more because of all the snow above it). That is 300 kilograms per cubic meter. That is 114,300 kilograms of snow above every square meter of New York.

References:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snow http://www.weather.gov/media/okx/Climate/CentralPark/monthlyseasonalsnowfall.pdf

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  • $\begingroup$ Hmmmm. . . Downvote because . . . ? $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Jan 31 '15 at 2:09
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It would be termed "glacier" rather than snowfall. That much snow fell in how short of a time? Two weeks? It is not feasible in the least unless 10 years of very harsh and continuous winter did so; most likely longer. Google images of glaciers and take note of how thick they are. That building is about a mile tall and some of those glaciers can come close in thickness. Cars would be useless if snow ever got that deep. Glaciers move like slow rivers but are solid ice; TESB would be carried out to sea along with every building in it's path. Picture years of icebergs calving at the feet of TSOL.
It is as comical as ice age/climate change due to global warming; and would be a great movie.

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  • $\begingroup$ Glacier is exactly right. If it's that high it isn't going to behave like snowfall, or even a snow drift. At the bottom it's going to be liquid water simply from the pressure. It is very much like a giant iceberg, on land, looking to head downhill. Traveling at a few inches a year it will it hit ocean and break up into actual icebergs since that's what icebergs are, broken up glaciers. The lateral forces might not destroy the windows until the break up since it's all moving together but the buildings foundation / basement is going to get left behind. Would love to see this on what-if.xkcd $\endgroup$ – candied_orange Feb 1 '15 at 2:28
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    $\begingroup$ "That building is about a mile tall". What? The Empire State building is not even 1/4 of a mile high including the antenna. $\endgroup$ – Samuel Feb 2 '15 at 17:55

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