Opinion

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Reporter's Notebook

Melt-Off Damage

The contradictory anticipation of spring: we want the warm weather, but not the worst of its implications

My wife and I were startled the other night by a loud thud that rattled the house. It was a heavy load of built-up snow falling from the roof onto our deck, a common occurrence this time of year.

As a parent, my first instinct was to worry that it woke up our two young boys. Only once I confirmed they were both still sleeping did my mind drift to potential structural damage on our house. There was none, although a substantial shoveling job awaited me in the morning, and the next morning, and the next.

I’ve become particularly sensitive to winter-inflicted destruction following previous episodes at past houses. In one incident, a large icicle-studded ice dam broke loose and crashed through our bedroom window, shattering it, while my wife and I were in bed, right above our heads. Fortunately, the blinds held back the glass shards.

In another incident at a different house, ice dams burrowed underneath the roof along a dormer window, unbeknownst to us, and ended up flooding our house during melt-off. We didn’t know about it until our living-room carpet was soaked. Months of repairs and wrangling with the insurance company ensued.

At least my roof has never caved in, as was the case at two separate buildings this winter on the Montana State University campus. And in Missoula, an entire building collapsed under the weight of snow while a school there evacuated out of concerns that its roof might give way.

“As everybody is seeing in this freeze-thaw cycle and with this snow level, snow weight is a very real issue,” Missoula Fire Chief Jeff Brandt told the Missoulian.

Non-skiers, and quite a few skiers, are ready for winter to be over. That hopeful thinking comes with caveats, as we want the snow to melt quickly, but not too quickly, out of fears of deep snow being jostled loose in precariously huge heaps, along with concerns over flooding. It’s a lot to ask of fickle Mother Nature, but weather prayers are a part of life in Montana.

In a story in this week’s Beacon, a meteorologist from the National Weather Service is preparing western Montana residents for the likelihood of flooding as the weather warms — not river flooding yet, but flooding in streets and homes.

“We’re worried about water from melting snow getting into people’s basements and flooding roadways,” Jeff Kitsmiller said.

As of this writing, I’ve avoided damage at my house, just a lot of loud noises and shoveling. My father hasn’t been so lucky. Ice forced its way into a downtown Livingston apartment that he’s renovating, destroying the ceiling and floor, and starting the remodel cycle all over again, with a brand new set of bills.

Indeed, the thaw has arrived. If you have a basement, hopefully you have a functioning sump pump, or are situated somewhere where flooding isn’t a concern. Officials also recommend that local residents ensure their storm drains are clear to avoid water backing up.

It’s all part of the contradictory anticipation of spring: we want the warm weather, but not the worst of its implications. The reward for making it through melt-off — potential floods, dirty slush, deep puddles — is the dawning of summer.

Then, we can hit the trails and lakes, seeking out water on our own terms rather than it coming to us uninvited.