Heavy snowfall in Oregon, Idaho, Alaska is causing buildings to collapse
BOISE — For buildings in parts of the snow-covered U.S. West, it has become a winter where the weak do not survive.
The accumulated weight of snow has crushed an old lumber mill in Oregon, the main grocery store in a small Idaho town, a sports complex in Alaska and a conference center in Colorado, among others.
The snow has led to some injuries and at least one death, when the roof of a woman’s snow-laden porch in northern Idaho fell while she was underneath it, officials say. Authorities fear more collapses will come.
Storms this month have blanketed the West and kept dumping more snow on top of it. Experts say the rare combination of greater snowfall at lower elevations and prolonged cold temperatures that allowed the snow to accumulate without melting away is partly to blame for the collapses.
The combination builds up an amount of snow that exceeds building codes set for weather expected only twice a century, said Dell Winegar, president of the Idaho Onion Growers Association, whose industry has felt the pain at its facilities.
Nearly 20 buildings that store and package onions have crashed down in Idaho and Oregon, leading prices to spike from $3.50 to $6.50 for a 50-pound bag of yellow jumbo onions.
While lower elevations are getting record snow, mountains in the West are only somewhat above average, forecasters say.
But “that snow hasn’t been melting,” said Troy Lindquist of the National Weather Service. “We’re ending up with snow loads on roofs that we typically don’t see around here.”
Abramovich said 20 inches of snow can weigh about 10 pounds per square foot. That means a portion of a 20-by-20 foot roof with that amount of snow would be supporting about 4,000 pounds.
A former factory was bearing much more weight than that when it collapsed this month in the upscale Old Mill District of Bend, Ore.
The building, covering 7.5 acres with nearly 30 inches of snow on its roof, was a remnant of an era when two large lumber mills stood where shops and restaurants now do. It stored about 60 campers and motor homes, said Scott Carlson, chief financial officer of Hooker Creek, a construction-materials company that owns the building.
“Typically, we get a lot of snow, but it usually melts some between snowstorms,” he said, noting that new storms made it too dangerous to remove the snow.