Some states have been deluged with snow from this latest storm everyone is calling Jonas. Giving these storms names does not make the misery and potential tragedies they cause any easier though. This Jonas storm just dumped way more snow on everyone from southern states all the way north to Pennsylvania and New York. New England also got snow from Jonas, but it was calibrated in mere inches for once. The one certainty is that Jonas brought nasty winds, near-hurricane wind gusts, heavy snow accumulations, a countryside littered with huge snow drifts and narrowed roads due to banks of plowed snow. To those of us who do not delight at the sight of snow, Jonas brought only cold and gloom. And, this one brought a big dose of the ever-present danger that snow poses to roofs on houses, barns, sheds and large buildings. Trusses and rafters must carry the increased weight and, if they don’t, roof calamity occurs.
Emergency personnel responded to many locations due to this storm especially in Maryland. A weakened roof at the Safeway in Bel Air nearly collapsed over the entire produce section; two fieldhouse roofs came down at both Concordia Preparatory School in Towson and Mount St. Mary. In Poolesville, a horse barn roof partially collapsed and trapped a dozen horses. And on goes the list including the loss of 200 pigs in a barn roof collapse in another state.
Buildings with strong and well-designed roofs cannot take excessive amounts of snow, especially the “snowman-type” of snow, wet and heavy large-flake snow. Left on roofs for a length of time, snow may increase its weight per square foot on roofs due to concentrated melt down, increasing water content and repeated freezing.
Consider a few causes for roof weakness and collapse —
Pitch of roof: Steep roofs readily allow snow to slide off but flat or less-steep roofs tend to hold on to the snow especially if the sun does not help burn it off.
Insulation efficiency: If houses have exceptional insulation under the roof, snow may not readily melt down from escaping heat and remain on the roof for longer periods of time. This means the roof weight bearing structures need to be in good order.
Lower attached roofs or lean-to roofs: These roofs are inundated with sliding snow from the nearby roofs and should always be cleared out.
Drifting snow: Blowing snow from other buildings and trees endanger roofs due to increased accumulation and uneven snow loads.
Roof peaks and valleys: These areas on roofs collect a lot of snow and may not melt off quickly.
Shingled roofs: Generally, shingled roofs sustain snow for longer periods of time. Snow and ice melt faster on metal roofs than shingled ones.
Barn and large agricultural building roofs: Many barns and large buildings used to shelter farm equipment and livestock may be older structures. Even though they have stood the test of time until the present, their infrastructure has weakened. These buildings have large surfaces and may not take the weight for any length of time, thus the reason for so many barn roof collapses.
So what is the sure-fire method of saving roofs? First and foremost, get the snow load off the roofs as soon as possible to prevent the increasing worry of structural failure. Obviously, if you can get someone to remove the snow for you using appropriate equipment, that is your number 1 choice. In the long run, paying to get rid of the snow problem will always be the top choice for both you and the buildings.
Safety should always be your primary goal. Roofs are slick, slanted and only for the sure-footed. The human safety concern of falling from an icy roof is an ever-present danger and should never be attempted without undue precautions. If you simply cannot hire the professional, then use sturdy, supportive ladders, safety ropes and lots of help.
Get a snow rake and use it as high up as reach will allow. Avoid all scraping on the roof and don’t chip at the ice to prevent causing damage to brittle roofing materials.
Perhaps renting several large heaters for an agricultural building can help melt off the snow or cause it to slide off by warming up the inside. It will require a lot of heat and must be used wisely and only with supervision. Putting heaters into attic spaces, however, is never recommended due to the fire danger!
If your location receives numerous snowfalls combined with cold temperatures, you should monitor the snow load situation especially on older buildings and barn roofs carefully. Make every effort not to allow repeated snow accumulations, ice dams and edge icing.
Know your roofs and possible high risk areas. Always use extreme safety precautions for yourself, family and livestock when clearing snow and ice. Know your agriculture extension service representatives and direct questions to them. Keep phone numbers of professionals handy, just in case.