Heavy, wet snow causing roofs to collapse in Minnesota, North Dakota

Crews work to clear snow off St. Francis de Sales Church in Moorhead
Crews work to clear snow off of St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church in Moorhead, Minn., on Sunday after heavy snow caused a large part of the church's roof to collapse, at right.
Matt Mikus | MPR News

Updated: March 11, 10:36 a.m. | Posted: March 9, 10:20 a.m.

A weekend blast of rain, sleet, wind and inches of wet, heavy snow proved too much for roofs of some buildings across Minnesota and North Dakota.

A large section of the roof of St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church in Moorhead, Minn., collapsed just after noon Sunday.

Create a More Connected Minnesota

MPR News is your trusted resource for the news you need. With your support, MPR News brings accessible, courageous journalism and authentic conversation to everyone - free of paywalls and barriers. Your gift makes a difference.

Moorhead Deputy Fire Chief Benton Hicks told KFGO Radio it was a "miracle" no one was hurt. Church services were canceled due to snow, and only two people were in the church. Both got out safely.

St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church in Moorhead, Minn.
A large section of the roof at St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church in Moorhead collapsed under the weight of heavy snow on Sunday.
Matt Mikus | MPR News

The roof collapsed on the kitchen area, where coffee would have been served to church members.

Hicks estimated a 50- to 75-foot length of the church roof crashed "flat to the ground." Firefighters had to shovel snow out of the center area of the church where the collapse occurred to close the doors.

Later Sunday, crews were removing snow from the roof of other parts of the building.

Across the state, in Winona, the roof above the pool at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites collapsed early Sunday morning. In a Facebook post, hotel staff said no one was hurt; the hotel remains open for business.

In West Fargo, N.D., more than a dozen people working at a railroad service company escaped injury when the roof gave way under the weight of heavy snow.

Firefighters shut off gas meters at RJ Corman Sunday and checked for gas leaks following the roof collapse. West Fargo Fire Chief Dan Fuller says the biggest issue following a roof collapse is the potential for an explosion. Fuller says heating and cooling units on similar buildings are usually on the roof.

Also in West Fargo Sunday, a partial roof collapse at a trailer manufacturer touched off a fire when a gas line was sheared. Officials say the collapse caused significant damage to the offices at Trail King Industries. No one was in the building at the time.

Snow ended across Minnesota on Sunday as the winter storm exited the region.

Western Minnesota saw the heaviest snow totals, with more than a foot in some communities. The National Weather Service received reports of 15 inches of snow from spotters near Herman and Pelican Rapids, with 13 inches at Detroit Lakes and a foot of snow at Holloway, Mahnomen and Red Lake Falls.

Pelican Rapids Mayor Brent Frazier said the main roads were clear and traffic was flowing Sunday, but in residential areas, it's getting hard to find places to put all the new snow.

"People are shoveling out; we haven't had a snow like this in probably the last 10 years," he said. "The difficult part right now is, where do you pile it? The streets, the boulevards are full of snow, parking lots are full. Some of it will probably have to be hauled away to different fields to store the snow."

Snow falls on Cathedral Hill in St. Paul
Snow falls on Cathedral Hill in St. Paul on Saturday. The precipitation started as rain earlier in the day, then changed over to snow during the evening hours.
Caroline Yang for MPR News

In the Twin Cities metro area, the precipitation started out as rain on Saturday before changing over to wet snow during the evening hours. That changeover happened later than expected — causing snow totals to be less than initially forecast. The metro area generally saw snowfall of 4 to 6 inches.

Whatever the final snow total — the snow caused travel headaches across the state. The Minnesota Department of Transportation's District 4 in west-central Minnesota advised no travel overnight on some state highways in Wilkin, Traverse, Clay, Otter Tail and Big Stone counties because of heavy snow and high winds.

Earlier Saturday, similar advisories were in effect for parts of Lac qui Parle, Chippewa, Yellow Medicine and Lincoln counties.

And in North Dakota, authorities closed Interstate 29 from Grand Forks to Fargo, and from Fargo south to the South Dakota border, on Saturday night. Interstate 94 was closed from Fargo to Bismarck.

All closures and no-travel advisories were lifted by Sunday afternoon.

Crews were kept busy responding to crashes across the state all day Saturday, including several jackknifed semis along Interstate 90 in southern Minnesota.

In areas where the precipitation started as steady rain, there were reports of street flooding where storm drains and ditches were blocked off by ice and snow.

The wet, heavy snow from this weekend's storm will make it challenging to clear driveways and sidewalks.

Dr. Michelle Carlson is a cardiologist at Hennepin Healthcare in Minneapolis. She said that if you're out shoveling, it's important to stay aware of signs your body may be under too much stress.

Snow plows make their way down Cedar Street in St. Paul.
Snow plows make their way down Cedar Street with the Minnesota Capitol in the background on Sunday in St. Paul.
Andrew Krueger | MPR News

"You're working hard in the cold — it can put extra stress on your heart and lungs compared to what you do in a normal day, so do be aware of what's going on with your body," she said. "Listen to your body. And if you start to have chest pain, if you have a lot of difficulty breathing, if you're sweating, if you feel nauseous — and those symptoms don't go away — then you need to think about whether you might be having a heart attack. And if you feel that way, call 911."

Jim Smith, a physical therapist with Physicians Neck and Back Centers in the Twin Cities, said it's important to stretch before shoveling.

"We do recommend that you go out and you do some warm-ups before you even go outside," he said. "Wake your body up, get it ready to shovel; don't just run out there, grab your shovel and have at it. Just doing up some warm-up stretching exercise beforehand is great.

"We (also) suggest that you break it up into short bouts — 20-30 minutes at most. Break your driveway, your sidewalk up into sections. It's not a race, no matter what your neighbor might say."

Smith said to take frequent breaks while shoveling to let your back muscles recover — and when you're lifting snow, bend at your knees and not at your waist.

Winter Weather Upper Midwest
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, second from right, and U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, right, talk with Katie and Rob Kreidermacher while looking at a damaged barn during a visit to the Kreidermachers' farm on Saturda near Altura, Minn. The Kreidermachers lost 10 cows when the roof collapsed from heavy snow.
Andrew Link | Rochester Post-Bulletin via AP

Some communities, including Minneapolis, St. Paul, Rochester, Eden Prairie, Robbinsdale and Brooklyn Park declared snow emergencies.

Weeks of above-average snow have caused headaches for many farms across the state — including dairy farms that lost barns to wind and snow, or had to dump milk because trucks could not navigate snow-choked roads.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, U.S. Sen. Tina Smith and other officials visited a farm near Altura, in southeastern Minnesota, on Saturday morning to survey damage from storms in February.

Walz called dairy farms "the bedrock of the economy and their communities."

The Rochester Post-Bulletin reported that a bill in the Minnesota Legislature would help get loans and insurance payments to affected farmers as soon as possible.

But farmer Rob Kreidermacher, whose barn was damaged by heavy snow, said he's not sure how much money his family can afford to borrow.

MPR News reporter Martin Moylan and the Associated Press contributed to this report.