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Heavy Snows

February 25, 2010


We finally got some good snow yesterday.  Beautiful with all the large flakes and everybody moving slowly on the roads.  Then it began to get a bit warmer and the snow began to get slushy and heavy.  I think we got about a foot and a half,  it was above my knees when I got home to shovel.  Then as the temperature rose and the flakes got big and fat, the snow began to sink and this morning it seems like only 10 inches where there used to be 18.   But those 10 inches are heavy and we are going to get more snow this afternoon and more the day after.  

Vermont Agriculture officials are urging farmers and homeowners to remove the heavy snow from roofs between this past storm and the next one coming in a day or so.     

It’s important to understand how much your barn can withstand and what to do to keep your livestock safe. Many agricultural buildings in Vermont are designed for “total” roof load of 50 pounds per square foot. This includes the dead weight of the framing, trusses, rafters and ceiling. Add this to a few feet of snow and the weight on the structure begins to exceed its carrying capacity.
Another important thing to consider in snow loads is that a roof may be able to hold a heavy load for some time, however, it may not be able to hold the increased load for the rest of the winter or through another storm that produces significant accumulation. A roof can lose its structural integrity after about 30 days if it is not cleared. The threat of these conditions makes it imperative to remove the snow from the building as soon as possible.

“Removing snow from the roof of farm structures as it accumulates is the best way to avoid a collapse and potential damage or injury to you and your livestock,” advises Diane Bothfeld, Deputy Secretary for the Agency of Agriculture.  

When clearing snow from a roof, work to ensure an even unloading from both sides at a time.  

  •  Always work in pairs and use a safety line when clearing steep pitched roofs.
  • Try to plan an escape route before you begin and keep safety the first priority.
  • The center of the rafters and the center of the building are the weak points.
  • It is advised to keep some 4×4 or 6×6 poles on hand to place under every fourth rafter, or along the center of the roof line. This will provide additional strength to the roof.   

If you are unsure about the structural integrity of you barn you may want to consult a professional engineer to assess the condition of the building. Even barns that survived the last storm may have hidden structural damage that might not be apparent until the next snowfall. A registered, professional engineer can provide a structural review of your building and assist with a summary of improvements, if necessary. 

So there it is.  We have all seen it before, the heavy snow the storms coming in one after another and eventually we hear about barn roofs collapsing.  This is where an afternoon of prevention is well worth it.   For those of us out in the field, take some time to check on your farm neighbors and give a hand if you can.  Wouldn’t it be great to get though a winter without another barn falling in?  

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