Blizzard Snow Loads And Building Codes

May 07, 1997

ITHACA, N.Y. -- For building engineers and climatologists, the memory of the Blizzard of '96 refuses to melt away.

Well over a year since the heaviest snow of the century fell over the Northeast, climatological studies now show that had it not been for structures built "better-than-code," more roofs could have collapsed under the weight, researchers say.

"In places where roofs should have collapsed, they didn't collapse," said Arthur T. DeGaetano, a climatologist with the Northeast Regional Climate Center at Cornell University. "It showed that most buildings exceeded the minimum building code requirements."

The Blizzard of '96 (Jan. 8-10, 1996) was a whopper, but with snow resting on rooftops, another smaller storm followed and contributed to even greater snow weight on roofs. "It snowed, stayed cold, and we got more snow," DeGaetano said. "It was the accumulation of snow from the two storms that posed the snow weight problem."

Enough snow fell throughout the 1995-96 season, that Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and the greater Washington area smashed their snowfall records.

But, during the Blizzard of '96, news reports of roof failures throughout the Northeast corridor -- Boston to Washington -- prompted DeGaetano; Thomas W. Schmidlin, associate professor of geography, Kent State University; and Daniel S. Wilks, Cornell associate professor of meteorology, to author a peer-reviewed paper, "Evaluation of East Coast Snow Loads Following the January 1996 Storms," in the Journal of Performance of Constructed Facilities (May 1997), a publication of the American Society of Civil Engineers, New York City. The study was funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

DeGaetano and the other scientists examined the weight of snow during the period Jan. 6-15, 1996. Once the snow weights were determined based on water content within the snow, they corroborated the climatological information with minimum building codes for given areas. For example, some of the hardest hit areas were northern and central New Jersey.

For northern New Jersey, building-code minimums generally require roofs to withstand snow weights of 21 pounds per square foot -- the equivalent of a storm that occurs once every 50 years. More infrequent storms bring snow weights of 26 pounds-per-square-foot in 100-year events, and 31 pounds-per-square-foot for 200-year values. The Blizzard of '96 and the subsequent storm amounted to the equivalent snow weight of a 125-year snowstorm.

Coastal Maine has different code requirements, as their 50-year snow weight level is 62 pounds-per-square-foot, their 100-year snow-weight level is 72 pounds-per-square-foot, and their 200-year mark is 83 pounds-per-square-foot. Snow weights here did not exceed the code.

In areas south of Boston, the researchers found that snow weights exceeded the minimum building requirements.

The Philadelphia building inspector's office reported 55 collapses, mainly from porches and rowhouse roofs. In Camden, N.J., there were 16 reported porch and rowhouse roof collapses. These types of structures, however, are often not covered by building code requirements, or pre-date the establishment of these standards.

Staggered news reports during the Blizzard of '96 and the subsequent snow storms provided the scientists with anecdotal information as well, lending insight to the type of structures and geographic locations to pay attention to. For example, a barn collapsed in Woodsboro, Md., killing 150 cows inside; a supermarket roof collapsed in Massapequa, N.Y., injuring 10 people; a 2,500-square-foot section of shopping mall collapsed in Tewksbury, Mass.; a building that housed a printing company in Bethesda, Md., completely collapsed; and a lawn and garden shop in Berks County, Pa., collapsed under the snow weight, killing one person.

"Climatology affects a lot of different fields, someone has to show how much snow can fall and what an engineered-structure can handle," DeGaetano said. "You have to ask what's the maximum snow weight that a roof can hold, what's the frost depth for underground utility lines, what's the max winds in an area so that roofs can withstand the winds, what's the maximum rainfall for an area, so that sewers can handle rainfall. That's what climatology is all about."

Cornell University

Related Weight Articles from Brightsurf:

How much postmenopause weight gain can be blamed on weight-promoting medications?
Abdominal weight gain, which is common during the postmenopause period, is associated with an array of health problems, including diabetes and heart disease.

Commercial weight management groups could support women to manage their weight after giving birth
Women who were overweight at the start of their pregnancy would welcome support after they have given birth in the form of commercial weight management groups, University of Warwick-led research has found.

Rollercoaster weight changes can repeat with second pregnancy, especially among normal-weight women
Everyone knows that gaining excess weight during one pregnancy is bad, but clinicians rarely consider weight gains and losses from one pregnancy to the next -- especially in normal-weight women.

Early and ongoing experiences of weight stigma linked to self-directed weight shaming
In a new study published today in Obesity Science and Practice, researchers at Penn Medicine and the University of Connecticut Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity surveyed more than 18,000 adults enrolled in the commercial weight management program WW International, and found that participants who internalized weight bias the most tended to be younger, female, have a higher body mass index (BMI), and have an earlier onset of their weight struggle

Being teased about weight linked to more weight gain among children, NIH study suggests
Youth who said they were teased or ridiculed about their weight increased their body mass by 33 percent more each year, compared to a similar group who had not been teased, according to researchers at the National Institutes of Health.

Association between weight before pregnancy, weight gain during pregnancy and adverse outcomes for mother, infant
An analysis that combined the results of 25 studies including nearly 197,000 women suggests prepregnancy body mass index (BMI) of the mother was more strongly associated with risk of adverse maternal and infant outcomes than the amount of gestational weight gain.

Study: Faster weight loss no better than slow weight loss for health benefits
Losing weight slowly or quickly won't tip the scale in your favor when it comes to overall health, according to new research.

What your choice of clothing says about your weight
It's commonly said that you can tell a great deal about a person by the clothes they wear.

Stand up -- it could help you lose weight
You might want to read this on your feet. A new study published today in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology found that standing instead of sitting for six hours a day could prevent weight gain and help people to actually lose weight.

Cash for weight loss
A new study, published in the journal Social Science and Medicine, has shown that selling rewards programmes to participants entering a weight loss programme is a low cost strategy to increase both the magnitude and duration of weight loss.

Read More: Weight News and Weight Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to