Buffalo-area roof collapses threaten lives, businesses after historic snowfall
Several businesses in Orchard Park, as well as a Hamburg bowling alley, saw damages after the 80-plus inches of snow put significant weight on the structures.
Just 4 feet of snow can weigh as much as a dump truck on top of your house, but removing the snow can be just as dangerous.
After a historical snowfall event in the Buffalo area this past week, residents weren’t just taking to the driveways and sidewalks to clear snow. In the Buffalo suburb of Orchard Park, New York (home to the NFL’s Buffalo Bills), the 80 inches of snow that accumulated was also cleared off local roofs in order to prevent a major danger to homes.
Snow as deep and heavy as the recent lake-effect snowstorm can cause roofs to collapse, threatening the lives of people who live inside. An unfortunate scenario befell Buffalo in November 2014, when a 6-foot snow event known as “Snowvember” led to emergency calls for numerous collapsed roofs around the region.
One Orchard Park business, Graffiti Grafix & Signs, had its roof collapse in 2014 and had about a third of the roof come down once again this past week, according to The Buffalo News. Orchard Park Police Chief Patrick Fitzgerald noted in an email that three commercial properties in Orchard Park, including Graffiti Grafix & Signs, suffered damage from roof collapse.
In nearby Hamburg, which had a storm total of over 80 inches of snowfall, eight greenhouses collapsed at a local farm market, and a local bowling alley is now expected to be demolished after part of its roof caved in this past Friday.
Flat roofs such as those on commercial buildings are a concern, as they could collapse and fail during this winter just as they did in Buffalo’s 2014 snow nightmare, said AccuWeather Chief Meteorologist Jonathan Porter. He noted the importance of building standards that require roofs in parts of New York (including the Buffalo metro area) to support greater weight than other parts of the country, due to the prevalence of heavy snow in the region.
The shovels were taken to the roofs of Orchard Park after a colossal snowfall in the area, averting a potential collapse. (Photo by Brandon Clement)
“For example, in other parts of the country - a roof standard might require supporting 20 pounds/square foot of load on the roof, but in the Buffalo area that minimum requirement from a standards perspective is 50 pounds/square foot,” Porter said.
The Orchard Park residents who took matters into their own hands to clear the snow needed to do so carefully, and for other parts of the country, Porter recommended that trained professionals should remove snow from roofs. Professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Dr. Michael O’Rourke, who previously served as chair of the American Society of Civil Engineers’ Snow and Rain Subcommittee, also shared this sentiment, especially for sloped roofs.
“It’s not a good idea to go up on the roof and try to shovel the roof off if the roof is sloped,” O’Rourke told AccuWeather’s Monica Danielle. ”If it’s a flat roof, you can do it without any problems usually, but a sloped roof, you can slide off the roof. You can get seriously injured.” O’Rourke also recommended snow rakes for getting accumulation off roofs without putting residents in danger.
Roofs in Orchard Park, New York, were tested by the recent heavy snowfall, which can amount to weighing more than cars and trucks. (Photo by Brandon Clement)
AccuWeather research indicates that for an average home roof size of 1,700 square feet, a snowfall of 2 feet (24 inches) would add a hefty 17,000 pounds of additional weight on the roof. In comparison, the average car weighs 4,156 pounds, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, and the average heavy-duty pickup truck weighs between 7,500 and 12,000 pounds.
“For example, 4 feet of fresh snow on a residential roof adds the equivalent weight of more than a dump truck and a car … I believe people wouldn’t [necessarily] think of that as it relates to snow,” Porter said.
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