If you live in New England this winter, you're used to hearing a groaning sound — but you're not quite sure what it is. It might be your neighbors reacting to the latest weather forecast. Or it might be your roof getting ready to fall down under a hundred inches of snow.
Going into the weekend of February 21 and 22, parts of New England were on track to experience their snowiest winter on record (or close to it). The latest weekend storm, unlike recent events, wasn't all snow — instead, it started as snow, then switched over to sleet and rain, followed quickly by a plunge into renewed Arctic cold. For a snowbound region already struggling with deep drifts, the brief rainy spell brought even more trouble than a simple snowstorm, as rain soaked into the rooftop snow and added to already critical roof loads.
Bloomberg Business News had this report after the weekend (see: "Roof Collapses Mount Across Boston Region in Weekend Snow, Rain," by Tom Moroney). Reports Bloomberg: "Sunday's tally shows 128 roofs have failed in the last two weeks, up from 106 roofs on Friday, according to Peter Judge, spokesman for the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, MEMA."
Sixty residents were displaced in a single incident in Hookset, New Hampshire, the New England Cable Network (NECN) reported (see: "60 Evacuated After Partial Roof Collapse at New Hampshire Apartment Building"). The Manchester Union Leader reports that the building's property manager says the building's roof will have to be re-engineered and repaired — which could take a month (see: Dozens displaced in partial roof collapse at Hooksett condos," by Pat Grossmith).
Most of the collapses are taking place in flat-roofed commercial structures, which are often value-engineered and can experience critical loads when snow not only exceeds the design depth, but blows and drifts to apply even greater loads over concentrated areas of the roof. But steep pitched roofs have their own special risk condition: ice dams. In hard-hit Massachusetts, homeowners facing ice-dam issues are finding it hard to get relief.
"I've called every roofer in the phone book," a Framingham, Mass., homeowner told Coastal Connection. "Nobody picks up the phone and nobody calls back." If it's any consolation, Bay State homeowners can at least tell themselves that they're not suffering alone: thousands of others are in the same boat. "[Ice dam troubles] are well known to many homeowners across the region, who are racing to remove ice dams and clear their roofs of the snow that has been piling up at a record pace for weeks," reports the Boston Globe (see: Snow, ice dams provoke floods of irate concern," by Laura Crimaldi).
Snow removal and ice dam work is a business opportunity for experienced contractors. But contractors have good reason to be cautious: clearing snow and ice from a roof is risky not just for the roof, but for the workers. At least two Massachusetts workers have died this month while working on snow-covered roofs in just one town, reported police in Canton, Massachusetts. "Two persons were on the roof assessing snow removal operations," a Canton Police Department report says. "The two individuals went separate directions when one person walked across a skylight that had been covered by the snow. The skylight gave way and an individual fell approximately forty feet to the ground. The victim was transported to Good Samaritan Hospital in Brockton where he was later pronounced dead. Additionally, on Wednesday February 18 at 10:00AM police and fire were summoned to 28 Draper Lane, Draper Brothers Company, for a worker who fell from the roof while clearing snow. A male, approximately thirty five years of age, was transported by Medflight helicopter to a Boston area hospital where he was later pronounced dead."