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Manholes are currently exploding all over New York

Will Gleason
Written by
Will Gleason

If you just felt those earthquake-like rumbles, no need to fear. It was probably just hundreds of manholes exploding all over the city at once.

Since Friday, a worrying 400 manhole fires have ignited across New York. In Sunnyside alone, three manholes have exploded causing the covers to blast off and fly into the air like obstacles on a really difficult level of Super Mario.

“This is happening with the snow runoff and the salt getting into the underground electrical structures,” ConEd spokesman Mike Clendenin told NBC New York. “Water and salt is not a good mix.”

So if you see a smoking manhole out there today, stay back and contact ConEd or the FDNY immediately. Curious to know more about why the city’s manholes have decided to start attacking mankind? You can read our FAQ on them below.

Why is this happening?
Basically, because all the salt that we put on the ground during snowy days seeps under the covers. Many of the electrical cables underground are old and frayed, so when the salty water drips down, it erodes the insulation on the wires, and conduct electricity. This can cause them to spark and create little fires, which release combustible gas and build pressure inside the hole. When the sparks ignite the gasses, you get an exploding manhole (and yes, we know the phrase is a little funny, despite how dangerous this can actually be).

How high can the covers fly?
Anywhere from 1 to 50 feet. And those things can weigh up to 300 pounds. Enjoy your walk home!

Is anything being done to fix this?
Yes. Con Ed began switching to vented covers a few years ago, so that pressure can’t build up from the gasses. And they upgrade parts of the underground electrical infrastructure each year to replace old wires, which should help, too.

How long does exploding manhole season last?
Hopefully not too long! If this warmer weather continues, we won’t need any more salt and those gross slushy piles will melt. But there’s still plenty of salt and snow on the ground (and probably more snow to come) so be careful.

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