Insurer warns of snow load threat to rooftops

Posted March 06, 2009, at 11:59 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 13, 2011, at 11 a.m.

FORT KENT, Maine — While the Maine River Flow Advisory Commission met this week to discuss the possibility of spring flooding in the state, at least one insurer is reminding residents to keep an eye on what’s over their heads.

“Rain [is] possible in some parts of Maine later this week, increasing the need to remind property owners of the excessive weight created by snow that has piled up on rooftops, porch roofs, shelters, camps, homes and commercial property,” representatives of OneBeacon Insurance Co. wrote in a snowpack alert sent to clients around the state. “Areas found in Aroostook have the greatest concern with greater than four feet of snow pack.”

At the National Weather Service in Caribou, the official snow depth as of yesterday was at 22 inches, nearly 10 inches less than last year when heavy snowfalls in The County resulted in several building collapses, including two commercial structures in Fort Kent.

“No one wants to ever have to file a claim for a roof that’s collapsed under the weight of ice or snow,” said Ann Ouellette, personal line team leader with Thibodeau’s Insurance Agency in Fort Kent. “The buildup of ice and snow can cause severe water and structural damage.”

Ouellette encouraged property owners to take steps to avoid that buildup, especially on older homes that may not be capable of carrying a heavier snow load.

While no significant accumulation is in the immediate forecast, weather service meteorologist Todd Lericos did say March, along with February, is still a prime month for nor’easters.

“One of those storms can come in and lay down a foot of snow,” Lericos said. “It all depends if we bounce into a storm track that could bring some substantial amounts.”

When it comes to roofs and snow, it’s not the amount of snow cover so much as the weight.

As a general rule and assuming an average snow moisture density of 25 percent, 1 square foot of snow an inch deep weighs 1¼ pounds.

Ice buildup can add greatly to that weight, bringing in an additional 5.2 pounds for every inch in thickness.

“Once the snow starts to settle under its own weight you lose a lot of the air and fluff factor out of it,” Lericos said. “As it compresses it gets denser but not heavier.”

He cautioned that the snowpack has a holding capacity. The snowpack, Lericos said, acts like a combination sponge and bucket, holding moisture, especially when it rains.

The northern Maine snowpack now contains 5.6 inches of liquid water.

“But if we get some rain, that water content could shoot up, and that’s when weight becomes the problem on roofs,” Lericos said.

The weather service was forecasting some sleet and freezing rain over the northern Maine region Friday night with little or no ice accumulation expected.

jbayly@bangordailynews.net

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