A 36-inch wide cast iron pipe, installed in 1950, started spewing into 23rd street in Manhattan at 10:30am today. It flooded the local subway station and caused train delays on the Broadway line, and my friend at his 15th street apartment found out it'd burst the hard way when he went to turn on the faucet and nothing came out.
Is it the recent flux of temperatures in the city that caused the breach? That was my early hypothesis. If you're not from New York, let me tell you about the past week's weather: It was pretty fucking cold a week ago, and then there were a couple of charming days this week, with a globally-warmed high of 61 degrees yesterday (22 degrees above average for January 31st). Overnight, temperatures dropped to around 27, and there have wind gusts all day--which shouldn't directly chill the underground water main, but it's still been miserable as hell.
But the weather fluctuations aren't the problem, the sheer cold is. "Water main breaks are more likely to occur when frost penetrates deep into the ground to a level of 3-5 feet," the Manheim Borough Authority on Water and Wastewater explains. "Usually from late January until early April. While cold temperatures may send the frost deeper, the level of snow cover is also important." We haven't had huge amounts of snow here in NYC, so it's likely that the old main simply gave up, although it's still uncertain.
Thanks to Instagram, there's an unfathomable amount of coverage at the scene, from office windows and passersby. So, at least for now, we can look as a flood overtakes the. corner where all the Sprint ads take place and where the tourists shuffle into Mario Batali's Eataly. As sandhogs blast holes 800 feet below the surface, making way for the new Water Tunnel No. 3, the failed main is a reminder that New York is a pretty old city with very old infrastructure. Let's take a look at the witnesstagrams:
Water main breaks, knocks out subways in Manhattan. Koch gone less than 1 day & the city's already falling apart on.wsj.com/11tgjTW— Mike Grynbaum (@grynbaum) February 1, 2013