We sat down with Michael Spensieri, P.E., Donan’s Regional Engineering Manager for the northeast. His region includes areas that were hit hard by this month’s Nor’easter. He explains what made this storm unique and what kind of damages we can expect to see as we gear up for the next winter storm.
What kind of claims/damages do you expect to see from this kind of storm?
Michael Spensieri, P.E.: There are a number of different kinds of damages that we’ll likely see. There are going to be some flood claims from the storm surge occurring around high tide. We’ll see structural failures, including rafter thrust and collapses, due to heavy-wet snow and snow drifts. And we may see roof or structural damage from high winds and localized gusts which reportedly reached up to 75 miles per hour.
We’re not used to hearing about flooding in the northeast in January. How did that occur?
This was a powerful storm which formed very quickly, and the pressure dropped significantly over a short time period – that’s how it got the “bombogenesis” categorization. This type of storm is a cyclone that rotates counterclockwise, very similar to a hurricane. The difference is this is a cold-core low-pressure system and a hurricane is a warm-core low-pressure system. You have the wind blowing from the east and northeast toward the land and the low pressure pushing down on the water, and this action makes the water rise above normal levels. The storm came through during one high-tide cycle resulting in a storm surge and coastal flooding.
What kind of damages do you see after a storm like this that might be attributed to some other cause? Why do you think these damages are mistakenly related to the storm?
We will likely see water damage from frozen pipes, and some of that damage may be a result of losing power during the storm, but we’re also likely to see a lot of frozen pipes because of the brutal two-plus-week cold snap that started just after Christmas. That cold snap may also cause ice damming and resulting water intrusion. And it’s likely that we’ll see damage to roof coverings that were not damaged by the storm but rather are past their life expectancy and need replacement. In a storm like this where the wind is blowing opposite of the typical direction, it can expose some weak points in structures and roofs; and because it’s wind-driven snow, water may not get in right away.
What’s the biggest challenge for adjusters and engineers after a winter storm?
There can be issues with accessing sites as these events tend to dump large snowfalls. Evaluating site conditions such as ground slopes and damage to building exteriors can also be challenging when large snowfall covers a property.
Was there anything else unusual about this storm?
One thing we may see that would be unusual is debris impact to structures in the form of ice hitting a building from the wave action and causing damage. There will be evidence of this impact but since the debris is ice, it could very well be gone when the adjuster or engineer arrives on site. It’s interesting in a geeky way and we engineers get excited about observing damages we don’t see often.
How does Donan’s northeastern team prepare to handle investigations that come in after a big winter storm?
We have many professional engineers in the northeast who are experienced and who have expertise in the expected types of losses. We also have a number of professional engineers in nearby regions who are licensed in this area and able to travel if needed to handle a rise in project volume. Our team is made up of staff who are from this area, so we know the weather and we know what to expect after extreme weather events.
View Michael Spensieri’s full professional profile here.
To learn more about damages from extreme weather, visit donanuniversity.com to browse articles or sign up for a webinar.
Photo Credit: Layne Blavier, P.E., CFEI, CVFI, Forensic Engineer, Philadelphia, PA
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