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A banner season for icicles, and the trouble they reveal

Large icicles hang from the gutters above southern-facing windows at the front and back of this property on Southeast Ann Street in Willmar. February is a prime month for ice dams, a problem caused by the sun thawing roof snow during the day. Nighttime temperatures then refreeze the melt water and create dams on the edges of roofs and icicles. Tribune photo by Dan Burdett

If you think you've never seen so many icicles sparkling in the sun as you have lately, you're probably right. This is the time of year when conditions are best for icicle formation and the problem they often reveal: Ice dams.

Unfortunately, this has been a banner winter for both, according to Richard Stone, an educator with University of Minnesota Extension. We've got lots of snow on our roofs, and frigid, night-time temperatures.

February is prime time for ice dam problems.

The sun is strong enough to start the thawing process during the day. Nighttime temperatures are still cold enough to refreeze the melt water and create dams on the edges of roofs and icicles.

The problem is made worse on the roofs of homes with air leaks or inadequate insulation. The heat loss melts the blanket of snow from underneath.

Eye-catching displays of icicles are not good news for homeowners when they signal the presence of ice dams, Stone noted. The dams block melt water under snow-covered roofs, and that water can infiltrate walls, insulation and even the ceilings of homes.

Stone said ice dams are a problem that really should be addressed before the arrival of winter. He recommends checking for air leaks, adding insulation and taking other steps to reduce heat loss.

Stone said he's been getting lots of calls this year about ice dams, probably the most he's received since early 1997. He's even receiving calls this year from places as far away as Virginia, where more than normal snow amounts have fallen.

Ice dam formation can be reduced by using a snow rake to remove snow, but be careful not to scrape or damage shingles.

For an emergency but temporary solution, use hot water to form channels in the dam to allow the melt water to drain.

There are also commercial products that can help thaw ice dams, including electric coils and chemicals that aid melting.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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