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DayCreek Journal

March 1 , 2007

The Blizzard of 2007

Sometimes nature has a way of catching up for lost time. Although February turned out to be a cold month, there wasn't much snow here to speak of in the La Crosse, Wisconsin. As a matter of fact, last week had temperatures in the low 50's and what little snow there was early in the week was gone by Thursday. That all changed however on Friday (Feb 23) evening. That's when old Ma Nature got even with us.

Friday evening's snow wasn't even the main event. It was instead a classic over-running of warm over cold air. The storm itself was still over 1,000 miles away, but you would never have known it. Thundersnows occurred with impressive snowfall rates of up to 2 inches per hour. By Saturday morning upwards of a foot of snow had fallen across SE Minnesota and the La Crosse area.

Then after a short break, the main event hit the area late Saturday with another 10 to 12 inches of snow and wind gusts close to 40 MPH producing total white-out conditions and huge drifts.

So where was I? I was in Illinois over the weekend and missed out on all the fun—that is, until Tuesday. I had plans of staying in Illinois until Friday (March 2). Jo was taking Friday off from work so we could drive together to Minnesota for this year's Festival of Owls in Houston.

Two feet of snow on the roof had me worried, plus the forecasts were hinting at another foot of snow. With that much snow, I was concerned not only about the house, but also the driveway.

My neighbor normally takes care of our driveway when I'm not around, but with this much snow I knew he probably would be beat by the time he attempted clearing the snow out of the driveway. His uncle has a snow removal business and he works for him during the winter. With all the snow, I was sure that my lonely driveway was somewhere down on his list.

Driving to Minnesota on Tuesday, the trip was mostly uneventful as the roads were already cleared of snow. Arriving at the front gate, I found out what two feet of snow looks like. I had forgotten the days of my childhood when Chicago received two feet of snow. (My mother was afraid I might suffocate in a drift somewhere, so I wasn't able to enjoy the '67 snowstorm until my brothers shoveled out around the house.)

When I installed the front gate to our house, I made sure I provided enough clearance for the deepest of snows, so the gate would swing open free of obstruction. Well...it ended up being quite a struggle to get the gate open, but I did.

Now the next fun thing to do was to hike up the hill to the house with a load of groceries. Our driveway is about 1,000 feet long—all up hill (both ways). By the time I made it to the house, I was exhausted! Luckily I didn't forget to bring the keys!

I plugged the Bobcat in to warm up the engine a bit. (Our rusty, trusty Bobcat is middle-aged and needs a bit of coaxing to get going...just like its owner.) By 12:30 in the afternoon I was on my way with the Bobcat. I figured it probably would take me about 3 hours to get the driveway cleared. Well...after getting myself unstuck (twice), I decided I better take it slow. (NOTE TO MYSELF: Buy tire chains for Bobcat.)

My biggest problem with the Bobcat was that there was a layer of ice under the snow, making it a slip-sliding event. I figured I could add traction by deflating the tires a bit, but after checking the tire pressure and realizing I was already down to 15 psi, I figured my only option was to take it slow.

Slow was an understatement. There was so much snow that I'd only move about four feet before I'd have to dump a bucket-load of snow. It was a slow, mind-numbing experience but finally FIVE hours later, I was able to bring the car up the driveway.

Tuesday night I didn't sleep much knowing that I was going to have gutter problems with the metal roof/gutters.

I never installed snow brakes on the roof to prevent the shedding of snow. It is a double-edged sword to some extent. Installing snow brakes on a metal roof will prevent the snow from sliding off—that's good news and bad news. In most cases, it's good news. But...what about in those rare cases there's upwards of two to three feet of snow on the roof? That is an incredible amount of weight and worries turn to more important things than gutters—the collapse of a roof.

Just like a glacier, the creeping advancement of the ice and snow curls around the gutters.

After a restless night, I started the day on Wednesday clearing off the solar panels. Most of the snow had already slid off except in areas where the snow on the ground had piled up so high that it couldn't slide off. With a shovel in hand and snow shoes on my boots I dug out both the solar PV and solar heating panels.

Now—what to do about the roof? The snow already had busted a few of the seams on the gutters. I just stared and wept to myself. At this stage of the game, I was more concerned about the integrity of the roof versus the gutters. There was two feet of snow on the roof and another foot forecasted. Three feet of snow on the roof had me concerned to say the least.

I built myself a snow rake to pull some of the snow off the roof, but even where I could get to the snow, it was hard and crusty. There was no way to pull it off from down below. The only way I could get at the snow was from above.

It was at that moment that I had visions of winning the Darwinian Award for 2007. I could picture the headlines for the award: "HOKAH MAN SLIDES OFF METAL ROOF AND FLATTENS HIS HONDA INSIGHT. DETAILS AT TEN."

I kept saying to myself this is crazy. But I was so worried about the roof, I decided to take my chances. I thought about it logically. If pulling with a snow rake, a garden hoe and whatever else I could find wasn't working, I figured the snow must be pretty well stuck to the roof.

I dug the extension ladder out of the snow and carried it to the house. Using the bridge in back of the house as a platform, I hoisted the ladder up to the roof. I kept saying to myself, YOU ARE CRAZY. Climbing on a shingled-roof is bad enough when there is snow and ice, but a METAL ROOF???

I tied a rope to my belt, grabbed the snow shovel and took my first step on the roof. The two feet of snow held firmly and I quickly scrambled up to the cupola. Unfortunately, the snow had already moved away from the cupola and the roof was EXREMELY slippery where there was little, if any snow. I held onto the cupola and slowly crept my way around. I grabbed the end of the rope and tied a knot. I was now tethered to the cupola.

I took a breather. I had way too much adrenaline flowing. I surmised my situation. It was 10 AM and it wasn't that cold. Temperatures were already in the low 30's and to top things off, the sun was starting to shine through the clouds. I figured I had about an hour before the roof started getting warm enough where things could get interesting.

With the rope tied to my belt and with my left hand keeping the rope taught at all times, I gingerly made my way down the slope of the roof. On the north side of the house, there was at least 2.5 feet of snow. I couldn't believe all the snow—everywhere!

I stopped about four feet short of the edge and started pushing with the shovel. Nothing happened. The snow was so deep it just wouldn't budge. I then started to shave off the snow in layers. Finally the snow slid off and I saw a glimpse of the roof! It was difficult holding a rope in one arm while shoveling with the other, but it was doable.

I used the same technique all the way around the 16 sides of the roof—well—almost. I left the one side that I originally climbed up on the roof snow covered so I could get back down. By the time I got done, it was close to 11 AM and it was getting warm and I was beat.

I gingerly hiked back down the roof, now with a rope permanently attached to the cupola. I was able to maneuver myself back on the ladder without falling, but it was dicey. I hope I never have to do this again!

Here's a photo with the majority of the snow cleared off of the ends of the roof.

So what did I accomplish? Peace of mind I guess. The greatest amount of weight was on the weakest part of the roof—the last four feet of roof. (Radial design.) Once the snow is off the roof, I'll have to do some major work. Do I fix the gutters, leave them on and install snow brakes? If I do, I run the risk (albeit slight) that another HUGE storm could potentially cause damage worse than gutters. The other option is to take the gutters off and just let everything slide off at its own pace. Our pole shed has a metal roof like this: no gutters and the snow slides off without incident. It appears that the gutter are acting as snow brakes—not good.

Removing the gutters however would put an end to capturing rain water—something that I would sorely miss. I'll have to do some serious thinking about this.

I probably over-reacted worrying about roof collapse, but knowing how much weight was up there, I don't think I could have slept at night. The trusses are suppose to be designed to handle the weight, but with the forecast for another foot, I didn't want to chance it.

As I write this on Thursday evening, I can hear chunks of snow sliding off the roof. There's still plenty of snow up there, just not around the edges. It's kind of like a glacier calving I guess.

The latest forecasted snowstorm appears to have never materialized. Temperatures are in the mid-30's and it's raining at the moment. There's talk of a few inches overnight, but the winter storm warning has been cancelled.

Thoughts now turn to next week. Temperatures are expected to head into the middle to upper 40's and the ground is still frozen. I suspect our gravel road will turn into a giant crevice big enough to swallow my car. I may be walking up the hill again.

A burst of snow made things interesting on Wednesday.