Alta. sees roofs collapse under heavy snow

Dairy barns, cabins, stores | Buildings are not likely covered under a disaster assistance program

Ken Munro doesn’t believe central Alberta has more snow than normal this year.


He thinks it’s a combination of early, frozen and wet snow that is collapsing barns like dominoes in that part of the province.


The roofs of dairy barns, machinery sheds, grocery stores, cabins, airplane hangars, feed mills, horse shelters and wildlife sanctuaries have all collapsed under the weight of this winter’s snow.


At Munro’s farm near Innisfail, Alta., two combines, a tandem truck and a swather are covered in a tangled mess of snow and broken roof trusses from his machinery shed, which was built in 1980.


“It was in very good shape,” said Munro of his 48-foot clear span shed with two 20 foot lean-tos on either side. He believes the first wet snowfall of the season froze the snow to the roof, and no snow was able to slide off.


Munro will hire a picker truck when the snow melts to pick pieces of the collapsed roof off his machinery. Then he will be able to assess the damage to the machinery underneath.


“We’ve got a huge clean-up problem.”


Munro said he thought about trying to remove some of the snow before the roof collapsed, but he was concerned about climbing on the building without the proper safety equipment.


The machinery in the shed is covered by insurance, but the building is not. His insurance covers perils, except snow load. 


Munro believes snow damage is the same as last year’s floods in southern Alberta, and natural disaster assistance should be available.


“It’s a natural disaster we thought we were covered for,” said Munro.


Alberta agriculture minister Verlyn Olson said he doesn’t believe disaster assistance will be available, especially if insurance was an option.


“In terms of disaster assistance, I really feel that would be a huge stretch, certainly from the point of view of damage to buildings,” he said.


“There is insurance for damage to buildings.”


The roof of a full hog feeder barn at Wayne Sargeant’s farm near Rimbey collapsed in November and the roof of a machinery shed collapsed in January, all from too much snow. No animals were injured and only half the building is now being used.


Sargeant said the snow didn’t seem greater than previous years, but the wind swirled the snow and the way it settled on the roof is what caused the problem. 


The machine shed contained his combine, swather, holiday trailer and other small items. Insurance covered the hog barn, which is now only half full and was built in 1994.


Mostly the collapsed buildings mean extra work cleaning up and dealing with insurance companies. 


“We do have a lot of snow,” Sargeant said. “It’s good for snowmobiling, so I guess that’s a plus.”


John Harms, chief executive officer of Westerner Park in Red Deer, said staff have been frantically clearing snow from around the buildings after a large fabric covered building partially collapsed from snow.


Harms said the sheen on the eight-year-old canvas became rough, and the snow couldn’t slide off easily. The piles of snow at the bottom of the building blocked other snow from sliding off.


“The tents are all clear now.”


Lacombe dairy farmer Albert Kamps had his fingers crossed against barn collapse as he waited for a professional roofing crew to re-move the snow Jan. 14.


“Farmers tend not to be good at a lot of things, but that doesn’t stop them from trying,” said Kamps of his roof clearing. “Sixteen feet (five metres) up is a long way if you were to fall.”


The north side of his barns have about 10 centimetres of snow because of the wind whipping the snow around, while the south side has two to two and a half metres of snow.


“It’s not a balanced load,” he said.


It’s estimated that a dozen dairy barns in the region have collapsed over the past two months.


Jan Slomp said he is watching the snow load carefully after his dairy barn collapsed three years ago. 


“It’s on my mind all the time. A lot of farmers out there, it is very worrisome.”


Slomp cleaned off the snow during Christmas, and his dog now walks up the snow piles onto the roof.