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Severe winter weather: What to do 48 hours before a storm

January 17, 2019

Learning how to prevent frozen pipes and implementing snow removal tips are strategies that can help you prepare your building for the next winter storm.

Jim Breitkreitz

Vice President of Property Services, Risk Engineering U.S.

As the head of Property Risk Engineering Services for Zurich North America, Jim Breitkreitz leads a... About this expert


In the 48 hours before a severe winter storm arrives, it’s crucial to finalize preparations and implement strategies that can help mitigate damage to your organization’s property.
Not all winter storms  are equal, as they can include varying combinations of freezing cold temperatures, sleet, heavy snow, and/or high winds. Two major concerns related to winter storms are water damage from frozen pipes that will later thaw and burst, and structural damage from heavy snow loads on the roof.

Damage from storms can be costly, with the National Weather Service noting that winter storms, ice and avalanches accounted for more than million in property damage in the U.S. in 2017 alone. Taking a few preventive measures 48 hours before a winter storm’s arrival can help reduce damage to your facility from freezing temperatures and heavy snow.


Frozen pipe prevention

If the storm is just 48 hours away, you may not have time to implement a sophisticated water-damage system that detects leaks from burst pipes. However, a few cold weather tips can help reduce water damage:

  • Inspect the building for places where heat can escape or cold can enter. Make sure window and door seals are in good condition, doors are not ajar, and broken windows are replaced. Repair or replace any insulation that is pulling away from the walls.
  • Wrap pipes that could freeze during a power disruption. Use heating tape to keep them insulated. Keep a trickle of water flowing through the piping system to prevent freezing.
  • Install battery-powered temperature monitoring devices, which are inexpensive and may even be operated via your smartphone. The devices can also be tied to the building’s information-monitoring system to alert you if the building’s temperature approaches freezing levels.
  • Schedule staff members to use a hand-held monitor that determines if building temperatures are holding steady or dropping to the point of danger. It’s crucial to maintain warm temperatures, as sprinkler systems can freeze, with ice preventing water flow, potentially breaking the pipe or fittings and setting you up for major water damage and cleanup.
  • Check your building even when unoccupied, as winter storms can occur over a weekend or holiday. Personnel should be available to monitor conditions.
  • Purchase portable electric heaters for small enclosed areas at risk of exposure to cold temperatures. Use an Underwriters Laboratories-listed electric heater and don’t leave it in a room with combustible materials.
  • Before that cold blast arrives, safely increase the building’s temperatures so all areas are warm.


Snow removal tips to help mitigate damage

In the 48 hours before a winter storm, make sure you have a plan, the right equipment and properly trained personnel for roof snow removal. Keep these tips in mind:

  • Only clear the roof of snow when it is safe to do so.
  • Monitor your building’s roof. Snow can dramatically increase the load on a roof, possibly leading to collapse. Indicators that a roof could collapse include sprinklers pushed down from the ceiling, doors that don’t close as they should, and unusual noises within the building.
  • Incorporate a roof-deflection monitoring system. This can help monitor the structural stability of the roof and determine when action is needed to clear snow.
  • Refresh employees on fall safety and protection equipment if they clear snow from the roof.
  • Have plastic shovels on hand, as metal shovels can damage the roof. Remind employees where snow removal equipment is located. Keep rooftop installations, such as solar panels, in mind, as you don’t want to damage them.
  • If you’re outsourcing snow removal, reach out to contractors before the storm arrives to make sure your organization is prioritized for service.


Two of the biggest mistakes you can make are thinking winter storm damage won’t happen to you, or creating a winter storm plan, but never implementing it.