Letter Re: Heavy Snowfall in Oregon, Idaho, Alaska is Causing Buildings to Collapse

It’s a REAL mess here on the Idaho-Oregon border. We have had something like 36″ of snow in the valley since the snowfall began a month ago or so. The problem is that, unlike in previous years, the sun does not come out to warm up the air and melt the snowfall after each passing storm. It has just been accumulating and accumulating. Then we either get a warm up putting a crust on the snow-top or we get rain on top, and then it freezes. My metal roof had at least 24″ of snow and ice on it last week. It has a strata of snowfall history with each slice one took out of it.

Last Thursday we got an additional 8-10 inches of snowfall in the Western Treasure Valley. That is about 50 miles from the Boise Valley. The city of Weiser got hammered big time. We have lost something like 150 structures (not carports, et cetera) but major structures in this region. Weiser lost its only real food store for the 5000 people there, and they have had to make major changes in their shopping habits. Most drive to Payette or Ontario Oregon some 20 miles to do their food shopping now.

In Ontario, Malheur County’s largest employer of 800 or so people (Ore-Ida– maker of Tator Tots and other frozen French Fries) is closed TFN as a major warehouse structure collapsed shortly after the Thursday’s final death nail storm. Part of the center of the roof had fallen in a week prior. Thankfully, no one was injured in that. Ore-Ida also lost other storage facilities as well. This will no doubt bring economic issues to an area known for high unemployment and low wages. Needless to say, some are making upwards of $40 an hour to clean roofs!

The Ontario area is a MAJOR supplier of onions to the world market. Storage facilities continue to collapse, causing major stress to farmers in the area whose margins can make or break them in a bad year. They are an expensive crop to raise, and it’s usually a make it or break it cycle for them anyway. One storage building that collapsed had a value of over a million dollars to replace.

Century old barns like ours, which are older than the County they stood on, are now shredded and soon to be gone forever. Airports have many collapsed hangers taking with them the private aircraft inside as well. Many homes and rentals have suffered as well. Everyone seems to have a story to tell about a loss. Many of us spend our spare time on our roofs or someone else’s trying to do what we can to keep them safe for now. This has been dubbed a Century storm, as it should, since it’s taking out a great many century old buildings too.

Right now we are in a brief interlude. Folks are playing catch up with roof top snow clearing. Weather has cleared and cooled, bringing with it a break in precipitation, but that may change by the start of the week with rain, freezing rain, or more snow expected.

I fear the worst may be yet to come. These huge piles of snow (past an adult’s knee cap) that are everywhere will be melting and the run off will cause much flooding in rivers, stream, and streets.

One word of wisdom: NEVER build with a flat roof, and never assume that just because your local building codes indicate a given snow load that that is going to be acceptable. If I was going to build today, I would always put a pitch on the roof and increase my expected snow load levels upwards from what the “expected yearly snow fall amounts are”. Metal roofs with enough pitch are shedding most snow loads. Even then, many are not.