How Snow Accumulation Could Impact Your Building

2019 has been the year of snowfall in the Midwest. The Minneapolis/St. Paul area alone received 39 inches last month, making it the snowiest February and fourth snowiest month on record.

This heavy snow accumulation is a common theme throughout the Upper Midwest and Northern Great Lakes regions. As depicted below in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) snow depth imagery maps, recent winter storms have left their mark with season snowfall totals continuing to accrue.

While snow is most commonly blamed for creating travel and visibility challenges, it can also cause damage to homes and buildings due to the weight of the buildup. During this especially snowy season, we have seen more facilities impacted by snow and ice accumulation than is typical.

With more snow forecasted later this week, the potential for additional issues has increased. The Hays Property Claims team has assembled a quick overview of warning signs of property damage following a winter storm, as well as what you should do about it.

Warning Signs of Damage/Collapse Following a Winter Storm:

  • Bowing, sagging, cracking or fractured trusses/purlins are a likely warning sign of overloading.
  • Fresh cracking in plaster or drywall may suggest shifting or movement of framing members.
  • Doors can suddenly become out of plumb or no longer properly shut.

These issues can also impact buildings in other regions of the country with a more moderate snow pack. Building codes are often not designed to carry the same snow loads that are anticipated in colder climates. Older buildings are especially susceptible due to less stringent building codes in effect at the time of construction or aging building materials.

Suggested responses to snow load issues or signs of a potential collapse:

  • Contact a structural engineer to evaluate the structural stability and determine if shoring or other emergency repairs are necessary.
  • Safely remove snow from the roof and hire outside vendors to assist if necessary. Areas which are most susceptible to snow accumulation are along parapet walls, where there is a difference in roof elevations and in roof valleys. Be careful with snow blowers and other equipment as additional damage can occur to the roof if not properly used.
  • Keep operations and employees out of impacted areas until the licensed engineer determines the situation is stable.
  • Evaluate whether it is safe to maintain utilities in area, or if they should be shut off as a precaution.
  • Notify your insurance carrier and broker of the situation.
  • Complete shoring and temporary repairs in-line with engineer recommendations to mitigate any further damage.
  • Take photos and video, save invoicing for incurred expenses and track internal labor utilized to respond.

If a catastrophic collapse has occurred:

  • Isolate the entire area from the balance of your premises/operations.
  • Notify your insurance carrier and broker.
  • Turn off utilities to prevent further damage.
  • Identify alternate means for production/operations if they are impaired.
  • Contact a structural engineer to evaluate any remaining portions of the building.
  • Gather original building details, plans, specifications, and other construction documents available. These will assist with both rebuilding and the insurance claim process.
  • Contact a contractor for demolition and rebuilding of the structure. We suggest working with the adjuster to confirm there is agreement on the scope and pricing prior to completing any of the permanent repairs.

Please note: these recommendations are provided for general information purposes only.

If you are impacted by heavy snowfall this season, Hays is here to help! Please reach out to your property claims team or contact us here.