Roofs collapse, boats sink under the weight of Juneau’s heavy snow

a warehouse
A partially collapsed roof at a warehouse on Channel Drive on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024. (Photo by Mikko Wilson/KTOO)

At least one warehouse roof and two residential porches have collapsed under the weight of Juneau’s heavy snow this week.

Capital City Fire/Rescue responded Tuesday afternoon after the back half of a warehouse roof caved in at a warehouse on Channel Drive. 

Both collapsed porches came down in the Mendenhall Valley. No one was injured in any of the incidents, but one family was temporarily trapped in their home after their porch collapsed.

Fire Chief Rich Etheridge said there’s not much the city can do to help people remove snow from their roofs, but the weight of the snow is approaching hazardous levels. 

“It’s kind of a gamble on how much snow a structure can take,” Etheridge said. “I’ve always used, you know, three feet of snow and I start pulling it off my residences. But there’s nothing scientific about that.”

The Mendenhall Mall closed on Wednesday to deal with the excessive snow on the building’s roof. The mall is expected to reopen by Thursday.

a store
Workers shovel show off the roof of the Foodland grocery story on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024 (Photo by Anna Canny/KTOO)

Two winter storms have dropped more than 60 inches of snow on Juneau, which ties the record for the city’s second snowiest January in 1982, at 69.2 inches. According to the National Weather Service, at least half of that snowfall — 35.4 inches — has stuck around at the airport. And it’s heavy. 

Based on its water content, meteorologist Rick Fristch said the current snow load in Juneau could exert nearly 30 pounds of pressure on a flat roof — but that would be less pressure on a pitched roof. Modern city building code requires that roofs are built to withstand more than that, but older buildings or poorly maintained structures are at risk of cave-ins.

And according to Fritsch, warming temperatures and rain over the next few days could increase that risk. 

“Snow is essentially a gigantic sponge,” he said. “And when it rains on the snow, there’s a certain amount of the water in the form of rain that’s going to be trapped by the snow.”

That waterlogged snow is heavier and harder to move. 

a sunken boat
A sunken boat in Aurora Harbor on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024 (Photo by Mikko Wilson/KTOO)

The heavy snow also has the potential to sink boats. According to City Harbormaster Matthew Creswell, a total of eight boats have sunk over the course of the two January storms. At least five sank in a 24-hour period this week.

“We really, really, really need our vessel owners or boat watchers to come down and shovel these vessels,” Creswell said. “Because right now, the Coast Guard is overloaded with these eight sunken vessels, all of our local marine salvage companies are overloaded.”

KTOO’s Clarise Larson contributed reporting.

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