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What risks come with the excessive snow in North Dakota and Minnesota?

Posted by Alexa Eudis | Mar 8, 2019 1:48:34 PM

Winter Risks

With all of the snow North Dakota and Minnesota have gotten this winter, there are some unique risks that can arise. From ice dams and excessive snow on the roof, to springtime flooding, there are many things that can happen to damage your home.  There are certain precautions you can take to prevent unnecessary damage. While there are some things that you cannot prevent, you can at least make sure you have the insurance protection you need to avoid financial hardship in the case that unavoidable damage occurs.

Ice Dams

As snow continues to accumulate and freeze, many are dealing with the issues caused by the excessive snow, one of those issues being ice dams on their roofs. If you have long, thick icicles hanging from your roof then there is a good chance you have an ice dam. Ice dams occur at the edge of the roof where a block of ice forms. As the snow on your roof melts from the heat escaping your home or from rising temperatures, the melting snow backs up behind the dam and makes its way underneath your shingles and into your home.

The damage from an ice dam can be extensive as the water leaks in and ruins insulation, walls, ceilings, and more. Any moisture that enters the home from an ice dam can also lead to mold and mildew, which can cause health problems and can get very expensive to remediate. If moisture has entered the home, it is important to dry out the wet or damp portions of the home immediately to prevent the growth of mold or mildew.

If you have an ice dam, you should consider having a professional remove it from your roof. This will help stop the flow of water into your home by breaking up the ice which is preventing proper runoff of the melting ice and snow. You should also have the snow shoveled off of your roof to help prevent new ice dams from forming as the snow continues to melt and re-freeze.

Hiring a roofing company or contractor to remove snow and ice dams from your roof can be a bit pricey, but it is cheaper, safer, and less of a headache to pay to remove the snow and ice from your roof rather than deal with the extensive damage that an ice dam can cause. If you do hire someone to shovel off your roof and remove ice dams, be sure they are licensed and insured. It is very easy to damage a roof while removing snow and ice dams and you do not want to be stuck paying for a new roof this summer because it was damaged by a "professional" over the winter.

Travelers insurance recommends taking the following steps if you have identified an ice dam on your roof:

  • Step 1: Using a roof rake, remove snow 3-4 feet from the edge of your roof, being careful not to damage the roof covering or to allow snow to build up around walking paths or to block emergency exits.
  • Step 2: Use a calcium chloride ice melt product, which you can generally purchase from your local hardware store. Be sure not to use rock salt or sodium chloride, which can damage your roof.
  • Step 3: Fill a nylon stocking with the calcium chloride ice melt.
  • Step 4: Safely place and position the calcium chloride-filled nylon stocking vertically across the ice dam so that it can melt a channel through the ice.
  • Step 5: Cover and protect any shrubbery and plants with lightweight tarps near the gutters or downspouts for the duration that the calcium chloride stockings remain in place. This is important because the calcium chloride-saturated water dripping from the roof may damage the shrubbery and plants.

The long-term solution for ice damming is to maintain an even temperature across the entire roof surface. If the roof maintains the temperature as the air outside, then the snow will not melt and re-freeze and will not form an ice dam. There are several important things to consider when trying to maintain a roof at the outside temperatures, including insulation, ventilation, and air leakage into the attic. If you have proper insulation, even ventilation, and avoid air leakage into the attic (from small holes like wiring/plumbing penetrations or light fixtures), the home will not lose heat through the roof and you will avoid the uneven melting and freezing that allows ice dams to form.

One thing to note is that if you take action to prevent heat loss, that will likely cause the snow load to build up on your roof. It is important to check your roof’s capacity to ensure the excess weight from the snow will not cause structural issues. If your roof cannot handle the additional weight from the snow, it is imperative that you have the snow removed from your roof before the weight exceeds the roof capacity.

Springtime Flooding:

With record snowfall this winter, Minnesota and North Dakota are at risk of record flooding once the snow begins to melt. Flooding from snowmelt is the most severe when temperatures increase rapidly, causing the snow to melt quickly. Since the ground has been covered in snow, often times the soil is already saturated or is still frozen, which prevents the snowmelt from absorbing into the ground. Instead, the excess water causes ground water flooding, or if near a river or body of water it can cause the water levels to rise and can cause more widespread flooding as a result.

According to the National Weather Service, the Red River Basin has a unique risk when it comes to spring flooding, mostly due to the fact that the Red River flows north. Generally, when the spring thaw begins the initial runoff enters Lake Traverse, and from there it begins to travel north. Since the slope of the valley is fairly flat, the flow of the Red River is slow and allows runoff to backfill into tributaries. When the areas further north are not yet warm enough to allow melting, ice jams can form which impede the flow of the water and cause the river levels to rise.

There are several weather factors that help determine the magnitude of the spring flooding:

  • The freeze/melt cycle
  • Early spring rains which increase melting of the snow pack or late spring snow storms adding to the existing snow pack
  • The actual snow pack depth and water equivalency
  • Frost depth
  • Soil moisture content
  • River ice conditions

While it is possible to know some of these conditions prior to the spring when the snow begins to melt, some conditions are impossible to predict ahead of time, which makes it difficult to know the severity of the flooding that can be expected in the spring. Even though you may not be able to predict whether or not you will be impacted by flooding, you can prepare for the worst to ensure you are not left paying thousands of dollars out of pocket.

Homeowners insurance does not cover flooding. The most common way to get coverage for potential flood losses is to purchase a policy through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). If your home or business is located in an area that has been determined to be “high risk” by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and you have a federally subsidized loan on the property, you are required to carry flood insurance through NFIP.

Some people may not be aware that you are still able to purchase flood insurance from NFIP even if you are not in a “high risk” flood zone. If you are located in a preferred flood zone, you may even qualify for private flood insurance. Private flood insurance is not provided through the government but rather through a for-profit company that often relies on the money collected from premiums to pay out for losses incurred rather than relying on money provided by the federal government. Coverages provided on a private flood insurance policy will likely differ from what is provided by the NFIP, and often can come with a more favorable rate.

I can assure you that flooding still happens in areas that are not considered to be “high risk.” Floods do not discriminate and can be very unpredictable. Across the country, approximately 1 in 5 flood losses occur in areas that are not considered “high risk” by FEMA. If you do not have flood insurance and you are impacted by a flood, you will likely be left paying thousands out of pocket to repair the damage.

In situations where the flooding is severe enough, the president can declare an emergency and provide financial support for disaster assistance, however the financial support you receive in those situations is considered a loan and you would be required to pay it back. The only way to get disaster assistance after a flood loss is if there is a Presidential declaration, so there is no guarantee that you would have any support if you do not have flood insurance.

According to FEMA, “recovering from just one inch of water inside your building can cost about $27,000.” Considering the amount of damage even an inch of water can do if it enters your home, it can be extremely valuable to purchase flood insurance. If your home or business is not located in a predetermined “high risk” area, flood insurance can be extremely affordable, averaging around $500/year.

You can purchase NFIP flood insurance through many different sources or brokers, but the coverage will always be provided by NFIP. There are also many companies that offer Private Flood insurance with varying coverages and costs.

Here at Integrity First, we have multiple options for both NFIP flood insurance and private flood insurance, so we have the ability to compare the coverage and price options available to you.

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Topics: North Dakota, Minnesota, home damage from snow, winterize

Written by Alexa Eudis

I am originally from Michigan but moved to Colorado with my family when I was 5 years old. Colorado is my home, but when it comes to sports, my heart is in Michigan. In the fall, my Saturdays are spent cheering on the Michigan Wolverines, and my Sundays are for watching the Detroit Lions (even though they usually lose). I enjoy spending time with my boyfriend, Jacob, and exploring our beautiful state with our two dogs, Brady and Sage. I have been working in the insurance industry since 2015, and it did not take long for me to realize that Integrity First is different than the rest of the industry.

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