Heavy Snow Weighs on Central Oregon Roofs

By Aubrey Wieber | The Bulletin

Anna Kaufman, left, and Hannah Rindlaub, right, ski down Riverfront Street in Bend, Ore., with their dog, Tula, during a winter storm on Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016. Since then, a deluge of snow has overtaken Portland — a city that typically lives under a cloud of mist and drizzle — and other parts of Oregon. (Jarod Opperman/The Bulletin via AP)

BEND, Ore. (AP) — After another day of relentless snowfall, Bendites living in a typical 2,300-square-foot home are likely sipping their coffee this morning under about 31 tons of snow. That’s more weight than five Asian elephants lounging around on your roof.

With storm after storm piling snow onto roofs all over Bend — and the warm weather needed to melt it practically nonexistent — the city is in uncharted territory, said Dave Howe, Battalion Chief and spokesman for the Bend Fire Department.

“We haven’t had this much snow piled up on roofs that I can remember, and I’ve been here 39 years,” he said. “This is really quite unusual.”

The city of Bend building code requires roofs to withstand 20 to 25 pounds per square foot. With wet snow being as heavy as 21 pounds per square foot, many structures throughout the city are stressed as snow continues to pile up. As temperatures hovered in the mid-30s Jan. 10, the snow was wetter than what fell previously and city officials said that if rain starts to fall, the snow will become much heavier.

A joint press release issued Tuesday, Jan. 10, by the city of Bend and Deschutes County warned the public of the weight of snow slowly accumulating on their roofs and suggested looking into having it removed if snow levels surpass 20 inches. A drive around Bend shows numerous homes with far more than that piled up, but the city and county also discouraged DYI removal.

Howe suggested calling a roofing company or an arborist.

But if you do plan to seek expert help, expect to wait.

Calls to more than a dozen roofing companies resulted in mostly busy signals and voicemail boxes. One company representative stayed on the phone long enough to report that they were indeed very busy, before promptly hanging up.

Craig Junker, owner of River Roofing, was the only roofer The Bulletin was able to reach. Junker said his company was booked five weeks out for snow removal. He received 250 calls for service Monday, Jan. 9, and by 2pm Tuesday he had already received 80 voicemails that day from potential clients who couldn’t get through due to the volume of calls.

While newer construction is better suited to withstand a few weeks of heavy snow, Bend didn’t start enforcing building codes until the late 1960s.

Howe said buildings built before that might not have taken structural standards into account at all. Furthermore, each storm can weaken a structure, Howe said, and some around Bend have weathered quite a few.

So far, the damage has been minimal. A warehouse collapsed early in the winter, and Howe reported a barn collapsed Jan. 9 in Tumalo. But those with older structures might want to have their buildings checked by a structural engineer, he said.

While the snow can stress structures, it can also block exhaust pipes and cause fatal carbon monoxide gas to back up into a house. Homes with gas water heaters and furnaces have pipes on roofs that generally are taller than the snow. But with snow depths reaching record highs, some homes might be in danger.

Both Howe and Junker said most often the exhaust will melt the snow around the pipe, creating a path for gas to escape. But that isn’t always the case. Junker said his company responded to a couple of homes and found the top of the pipe covered in snow.

Some exhaust pipes have a mechanism to shut off the furnace or water heater if the exhaust path is blocked, but others don’t, Junker said. Howe said the length of pipe likely depends on the contractor who installed it, rather than it being of a specific era.

“If you have a gas water heater, or even a furnace, they just need to check and make sure it’s not being blocked by snow,” Howe said.

Snow certainly presents a danger on the roof, but it also buries things on the ground. Howe said fire hydrants all over Bend are completely covered in snow. Howe said rough department calculations claim any given block in town has a 1-in-60 chance of a house fire once per year, and while the department has a map of all the hydrants in town, locating them isn’t the primary objective when responding to a fire.

“If we can have a hydrant opened up on each block, we can spend our time fighting the fire rather than shoveling snow,” he said.

Howe asks that residents locate the hydrant closest to their home and dig it out from the street in, so firefighters can quickly access it.

“This is a time when the community really needs to pull together and help each other,” he said.

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