Dennis Jacopec of Davisburg, a roofer, says the weight of snow can damage roofs. (Charles V. Tines / The Detroit News)
As temperatures finally are forecast to top freezing this week, Metro Detroiters face a new set of problems as the result of all that melting snow.
For homeowners, ice dams on roofs caused by melting snow that refreezes, leaky basements and flooded yards are a concern. For communities, public works employees will be on guard for water main breaks, flash flooding in drainage sewers and growing potholes.
The culprit is a predicted swing from sub-freezing temperatures Saturday to highs in the 40s Wednesday — the mildest weather the area has seen since Jan. 13, according to the National Weather Service. The area could also get some rain Wednesday night or Thursday morning, said Sara Schultz, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in White Lake.
The warm-up could lead to an increased risk of flooding this week and through the end of February.
Allen Park resident Sam Sarandrea said he’ll keep watch for flooding in his basement because of the snow the area got this winter: 70.8 inches through Feb. 12, following the snowiest January on record.
“I worry about flooding, especially after a big storm,” said Sarandrea, who’s lived in his house on Rosedale Boulevard since 1972.
Sarandrea’s neighborhood had a history of flooding up until the early 2000s, he said. The last big flood in Sarandrea’s house was in 2004 and it wrecked his basement.
After his basement was remodeled, Sarandrea said, he had a sump pump installed. “You put these systems in and you hope they keep your basement from flooding,” he said.
On average, one inch of fresh snowfall contains about a tenth of an inch of water, according to the state’s Committee for Severe Weather Awareness. Since the frozen ground can’t take in all that water, there is the risk of flooding in low-lying areas, small streams and creeks and basements.
As the weather warms up, homeowners need to be on the lookout for ice dams.
They’re caused by the warm air in homes leaking into attics and heating up the undersides of roofs. Snow and ice on the roof melts, the water then refreezes and forms a dam. The problem can damage roofs and cause water to leak through ceilings and walls.
Large icicles hanging from a home’s eaves troughs or gutters are a sure sign of ice dams, said Patrick Butcher, president and owner of Butcher & Butcher Construction, based in Rochester Hills. Butcher said his company has received many calls this winter about leaks, water damage and mold in homes because of snow and ice build up.
“If you can see significant ice built up on your eaves edges or large icicles hanging down, you need to remove it,” he said. “It can create a very expensive leak in the roof.”
Butcher said homeowners should use a roof-safe product such as Roofmelt or calcium chloride to remove ice dams or call a professional.
Homeowners also need to watch for moisture in basements or crawl spaces, said Bob Genord, president and owner of Livonia-based Foundation Systems of Michigan.
“If homeowners have had problems in the basement or crawl space before and they haven’t addressed the root cause, it’s probably going to get worse,” he said.
To avoid problems, Genord recommends homeowners regularly inspect crawl spaces or basements to catch problems early. He also suggests homeowners who have sump pumps in their basements keep them maintained.
“A lot of the time, the pump hasn’t run all winter because the ground’s frozen, the water table isn’t rising,” he said. “But then, when it starts to warm up and it goes into use, the float switch has a little corrosion on it and gets stuck, it won’t trip and your basement will flood.”
The melting snow bodes well for sales at AAA True Value on Livernois Avenue in Detroit. Owner Steve Mansour said he’s seen a run on pipe wraps, copper fittings, propane tanks and anything else that will help insulate and protect basement pipes. He said every day at least one customer comes in complaining of broken pipes or a flooded basement.
“That’s been our story this winter,” he said. “In a way, it’s good for business. But in another way, it’s not, because people aren’t shopping. They’re only coming in for the necessities.”
Road departments will be on the lookout for any major troubles that might arise from this week’s warm-up.
Craig Covey, special assistant to Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner Jim Nash, said the department is not anticipating any major problems.
“We’re used to this because each spring we have these issues,” he said. “The question is: Is there more snow than usual?”
“Yes, but it’s probably not going to all melt at once.”
Typically, the weather slowly warms up, like it’s supposed to this week, Covey said.
As it always does, the department will have people on call for emergencies, Covey said.
This week’s warm-up could cause more problems on Metro Detroit roadways in the form of potholes, water main breaks and overflowing drains. Roads could be slick in the mornings as the melting water refreezes overnight, too.
“It’s definitely a concern,” said Diane Cross, MDOT’s communications representative. “There isn’t anywhere for the water to go because drains have been frozen. We have crews making sure catch basins are clear, but at times it can be pretty tough.”
Cross said limited manpower that has spent most of its time salting roads and plowing snow has made it difficult to keep catch basins and drains clear of ice and debris.
This week, the department, and the counties it contracts its work to, will be in full triage mode, assessing dangers such as potholes, flooding and freezing water.
If the snow melts at a rapid rate and flooding becomes a problem, Cross said certain low-lying stretches of freeway, like I-375 near downtown Detroit, have pump stations that can clear most of the water.
Gus Ghanam, deputy public service director for the city of Warren, said road crews will be out this week making sure all of the city’s catch basins are open to help avoid flooding.
If there is trouble, he said the Department of Public Works has a number of six- and eight-inch pumps to help move water.
In Detroit, Cheryl Porter, chief operating officer for Detroit’s Water and Sewerage Department, admitted there’s likely to be standing water, especially on side streets, because of the department’s aging infrastructure and the beating it has taken from this winter’s freeze/thaw cycle.
She said drain-clearing trucks will be at the ready whenever there are issues.
“This year temperatures have not been friendly to our system,” she said. “We’re prepared for the worst but hoping for the best.”
Ice fishing safety
As the temperature warms, ice over lakes and rivers gets thinner. Before heading out on the ice, anglers should:
■Always check weather and ice conditions.
■Always leave a travel plan with someone who can call for help.
■Dress for the water temperature, not the air temperature.
■Do not go out alone on the ice. Always take a partner who can call or go for help in an emergency.
■Take along a cellphone, a whistle, rope, ice picks or screwdrivers, flares, a flashlight and personal flotation devices or a VHF-FM radio.
■Never drive a car or truck on the ice. Most insurance policies are rendered null and void if a vehicle parked on ice falls through and into the water. Vehicle owners are also financially responsible for any cost for the cleanup of automotive fluids released into the water.
Source: Detroit News research
More snow is on its way starting this afternoon, with 3-6 inches expected in Metro Detroit by midnight. But temps peaking in the mid-20s today are expected to give way to mid- to high-30sTuesday and Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service in White Lake.