When you think blizzard damage, what types of problems can you almost always expect? Lots of snow is always a given, heavy ice build-up also, almost always accompanied by unusually strong winds. Each of these presents a different type of danger for an affected homeowner.
In January 2005 a blizzard struck the Great Lakes and New England, dropping record inches of snow at a rate of five inches per hour. It was accompanied by winds gusting to 85 miles per hour. In March of 2019, a blizzard struck the Eastern Rockies and the Great Plains that paralyzed travel and produced damaging winds, and later caused record-breaking flooding. If you lived in these areas at that time, and didn’t prepare before the blizzard arrived, you were possibly in major trouble.
Our National Weather Service describes a blizzard as “large amounts of snow with winds in excess of 35 mile per hour, and visibility of less than one-quarter mile, for a period greater than three hours”.
Snow seems to be light and fluffy as it falls, but when large amounts of it quickly accumulate on objects, the snow’s weight can build up rather rapidly. The snow’s weight can collapse roofs, awnings, patio covers, carports, and trees. If the tree branch that snaps is located near your home, windows can be broken and/or roofs may become holed. Unless you are home at the time these events happen, the damage may go undiscovered until major water damage becomes obvious.
It may be easy to see ice as it builds up on your trees, bushes, and other plants, but how about the buildup in and around your home’s gutters and soffits? Snow and especially ice buildup will lead to the development of ice dams. When snow and ice slowly melts, it flows downward and then refreezes as it reaches gutters and soffit areas that are not insulated. As more and more melt water flows downward and refreezes, it expands against the roof’s shingles, causing the shingles to separate from each other and lift slightly. As more water arrives, or as the ice that caused the problem melts, the water can seep between the shingles, in through your roof, and down into your home’s walls and ceilings. Ice dam damage is slow to occur and is slow to be discovered; usually you become aware of it after it’s too late to avoid the damage. Due to its slow discovery rate and the warm conditions inside your home, ice damming will most often result in mold damage.
Blizzards are always accompanied by high winds, 35 miles per hour or higher. This amount of wind can cause damage in numerous ways. Unsecured outdoor objects, lawn chairs, garbage cans, and such can become airborne and slam into your home, breaking window glass or punching holes in exterior walls or roofing. Strong winds blowing more than 35 miles per hour may also dislodge shingles, allowing melting snow and ice to enter through the roof and into the home.
Due to ice and snow buildup on and around power lines and transformers, power outages are also common events during a blizzard. When the power goes off sump pumps quit working, the lights go off, and the furnace stops working. When there is no heat, the potential for frozen water lines increases significantly. If pipes freeze, they will swell and burst, then as things begin to thaw out, water under constant pressure will spray out of the split pipe with surprising and devastating force. Wind chills also become a concern due to the strong winds and cold temperatures.
Hypothermia can set in quickly. As heat loss begins, body temperatures drop into the mid 90’s or lower. Shallow breathing, confusion, and drowsiness are common signs.
When outdoors during a blizzard, leaving skin exposed can lead to severe frostbite cases. Frostbitten skin may look whitish-gray and feel hard or waxy. Believe it or not, blisters can form.
Extremely cold weather conditions can even increase your risk of a heart attack. Your heart rate and blood pressure increases as your body attempts to keep you warm. If you are not used to regular, strenuous exercise, activities like shoveling large, heavy amounts of snow in freezing temperatures may add to your risk.
Although weather predictions are mostly accurate when it comes to major weather events, conditions can and will change quickly. You, your family, and your home can safely survive blizzard damage if you plan ahead. If you discover water damage caused by blizzard damage, we have pre-qualified professionals who can assist you. They are available 24 hours a day by calling 877-960-0491. The phone call is free and so is their expert advice.
Written by Mark Huey.