The balmy temperatures of June have pushed thoughts of an unusually cold and snowy winter out of our memories. But reminders persist in the form of buildings collapsed or damaged under extremely heavy snow loads.

Now is the time to make sure that doesn’t happen again.

Unusually heavy snow and rain and colder-than-normal temperatures were experienced throughout the western U.S. Meteorologists have blamed the record-setting winter at least in part on the collapse of the polar vortex – a wind pattern that normally keeps extremely cold air contained in arctic regions. The dwindling sea ice in that region may be the cause and, if so, severe winters of the kind we just experienced may be the new normal.

Montana State University officials were shocked when the roofs of a pair of gymnasiums collapsed. Fortunately, the first collapse happened late at night. Had it occurred in the daytime when the gym was in use, the results could have been catastrophic. After the first collapse, the second was anticipated and that gymnasium was vacated when the roofed caved in. Then city officials were caught off guard when the roof over the Bogert Park pavilion partially collapsed.

Following those events, all MSU buildings were inspected for possible damage and crews were dispatched to remove snow from flat-roofed buildings. All local government and school officials should ensure that public buildings are capable of holding up under snowfall that could be even worse in the future. Owners of private buildings and homes with flat roofs should be doing the same. And insurers may find it in their interests to insist that those responsible for the care and maintenance of insured buildings are taking measures to make sure they don’t have a repeat of last winter’s events. And the time to do that is now.

The collapse of a heavily populated building could be a tragedy of national proportions.

We’ve been warned and tragedy was averted this past winter. But the next time we may not be so lucky.

Editorial Board

  • Mark Dobie, publisher
  • Nick Ehli, managing editor
  • Bill Wilke, opinion page editor
  • Don Beeman, community member
  • Richard Broome, community member
  • Renee Gavin, community member
  • Sarabeth Rees, community member
  • David Swingle, community member

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