Theories abound after 2 chunks land in state in a week
Keay Davidson, Chronicle Science Writer
The skies are raining big chunks of ice, and experts ranging from scientists to federal investigators are scrambling to learn what's going on.
For the second time in a week, California was the victim of an aerial, icy assault, the latest being early Thursday when a chunk of ice the size of a microwave oven plunged out of a cloudless sky into the San Bernardino County town of Loma Linda. The ice punched through the metal roof of a recreation center, leaving a hole up to 2 1/2 feet wide, then fragmented into opaque, brilliant white chunks, one as big as a bowling ball. No one was hurt.
Two tennis players were batting a ball around outside the Drayson Center at Loma Linda University on Thursday morning when they heard a strange sound, said Rolland Crawford, Loma Linda Fire Department division chief.
"They described it as the sound an artillery shell would make -- shoosh, shoosh,'' he said. "They looked up. They didn't see the ice, nor did they see a plane.''
A similar incident occurred last Saturday in Oakland, where a plunging ice ball plowed into a field at Bushrod Park on Shattuck Avenue and blasted out a crater up to 2 feet wide. Again, no one was hurt.
The simplest, least controversial hypothesis is that the ice was dropped from airplanes, but there's little direct support for that view. A few experts who study such phenomena have suggested that similar occurrences around the world owe more to exotic causes, perhaps even global warming.
The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating the two latest cases under the theory that the ice fell from an aircraft, FAA spokesman Mike Fergus said Friday.
Such cases can be very tough to solve, he said.
In both cases, the ice was clear or whitish -- not bluish, as one would expect of ice that had leaked from an airplane's restroom, for instance.
Keay Davidson, Chronicle Science Writer
OAKLAND, Calif. -- Even the experts are having trouble explaining a solid block of ice that fell from the sky, crashed into earth and left behind a three-foot hole in the grass.
The ice fell at Bushrod Park in Oakland early Saturday when homeowner Jacek Purat of Berkeley was waiting nearby to show apartments to prospective renters.
"It was totally amazing. ... I saw this flash, like a streak. Then I saw this explosion, like a big boom! I came over and it (the field) was all covered with ice. Some were this big," Purat said, making a head-size circle with his two hands.
Brooks and Judith Mencher said they were standing on their back porch near the park when they heard a sound like a very loud rocket. "It kind of went 'whoosh!"' Brooks Mencher said.
The impact "knocked turf 20 feet away," according to Oakland Police Sgt. Ron Lighten. No one was injured.
Lt. Charles Glass of the Oakland Fire Hazardous Materials Team said the ice was pure water. "It didn't come from a toilet on a plane or anything like that."
Glass said the ice that firefighters pulled from the hole was about the same size of the hole -- three by three feet and two and a half feet deep.
Tony Hirsch, a Columbus, Ohio-based aviation expert, said ice falls of pure water are not uncommon: "Ice builds up on airplanes and falls off as they prepare to land."
But Hirsch said the airplane "would have to descend through what we call visible moisture, rain or clouds, for ice to build up." The skies were partly cloudy Saturday morning.
He said a large chunk of ice could build up on the vertical stabilizer or in a wheel well: "When they lower their landing gear, it falls off."
The National Weather Service said San Francisco Bay area storms haven't been violent enough to hatch a gigantic hailstone on its own. "There's nothing meteorological that would create a piece that big falling into Oakland," said weather service forecaster Diana Henderson.
It could simply be an unexplained "ice fall," one expert said. Big balls of ice sometimes fall from the sky without any real explanation.
Copyright 2007 by KTVU.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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