With snowfall on pace to break a record, Havre is feeling the strain.
Not just in wind chills that challenge temperatures on the dark side of the moon, but in damage to some of its most formidable structures.
On Dec. 30, heavy snow collapsed a 6,200 square-foot area of roofing at Havre High School. Resulting damage is estimated in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Much of the building remains out of commission. The library, woodshop, metal shop, computer lab, cafeteria and the family-consumer service rooms are still closed.
“The hardest part is that the teachers work hard every single day to maximize student achievement,” said Andy Carlson, superintendent of Havre's school district. “The faculty is doing its best, but the building is just not supporting us right now. It's frustrating.”
Then last Sunday, Herberger's, the largest business in the Holiday Village Mall, closed early when store employees feared that part of the roof might give way. After structural engineers examined the building, the department store was reopened at noon Wednesday.
“We wanted to take all necessary precautions in order to ensure the safety of our customers and associates,” said Mary Kerr, vice president of investor and public relations for Bon-Ton Stores Inc., which owns Herbergers.
An area of the store has been walled off while repairs proceed.
“It is my understanding that the state has revised the code for roofs to ensure roofs are able to withstand the snow and ice Montana gets,” she said Wednesday from her office in York, Pa. “We will make the repairs to meet the new codes.”
The problem isn't as simple as too much snowfall, Carlson said. It's a matter of density created by repeated cycles of melting and freezing.
The problem started in November with heavy snows, big winds and persistent cold that has created a weighty blanket on every exposed surface in this northern Montana city of 10,000.
Havre has been covered in snow since the first winter storm dropped 12 inches on Nov. 16. Some of that snow is still on the ground, compacted into an icy crust and covered by layers added in snowstorms that have totaled 47.2 inches so far this winter — 20 inches above normal.
The average annual snowfall there is 41.7 inches. The winter of 2010-2011 already ranks sixth in records that go back to 1880. A few more inches and it will be in the top three, said Jerome Saucier at the National Weather Service office in Great Falls. The record is 72.2 inches set in 1967.
“They are on a pace to set a new record, depending on how spring plays out,” Saucier said.
Last Friday, freezing rain added a slippery new sheen to the winter cover that still measures 16 inches on level ground.
But wind has whipped drifts much higher than that. In the wake of the high school disaster, the school district began shoveling snow from the roofs of its other buildings.
“We had drifts on the high school roof 2 to 3 feet high,” he said. “We removed 8-to-10-foot drifts off the middle school.”
And the damage isn't done yet, he said. At the high school, warm weather could cause even more problems. Ceilings in the buildings have already sprung leaks from melting snow.
The part of the 100,000 square-foot roof that collapsed was a suspended structure over the original concrete roof. The concrete roof was not damaged, Carlson said, but water has begun seeping into the building through holes in the concrete that were drilled to attach the suspended roof.
For now, Carlson is waiting for a final report from structural engineers and talking with insurance adjusters.