Shed collapse from snow in central North Dakota was ‘kind of a disaster,’ but no one was hurt
Mike Clemens, a farmer from Wimbledon, North Dakota, was literally (and figuratively) “blown away,” when his equipment shed collapsed under a snow load.
WIMBLEDON, North Dakota — Mike Clemens has been blown over by the winter of 2022-23, especially a snowstorm in mid-December that collapsed the roof of an equipment storage building and blew him out the door.
Fortunately, he landed safely in a snowbank.
The storage shed is a goner.
After snow and wind storms that ran from Dec. 13 to 15, 2022, on Dec. 16, 2022, the flat roof of the 70-by-120 equipment shed came down under a snow load. Clemens had just walked out the front door.
It was a day that will go down in history at Clemens Farms Inc., which today is a 7,000-acre corn and soybean farm that has weathered various storms across the years. The farm has seen a lot of history since the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, when the crops were barley, wheat and sunflowers.
Mike, 66, and Pam farm in association with their daughter and son. Their daughter, Rachael and her husband, Joe Ericson, live on the main place. Son, Brad Clemens, and his wife, Jasmin, had a baby Dec. 23, 2022. Mike is a long-time leader for commodity organizations. Clemens served as the president of the National Sunflower Association, as chairman of the North Dakota Oilseed Council, and on the North Dakota Corn Growers Association board, among others. He helped lead an ethanol plant at Valley City. (Son-in-law Joe Ericson has been involved in the North Dakota Soybean Growers Association.)
Clemens can laugh at the building collapse as “kind of a disaster,” but quickly adds it was the good kind because no one was hurt.
The ‘perfect storm’
The “perfect storm” of late 2022 started Dec. 13 through Dec. 15.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration described that “Winter Storm Diaz” started in the Rocky Mountains. The blizzard, with a prolonged period of strong winds after the snowfall ended in the Dakotas and Minnesota, was followed by sub-zero temperatures.
A straight east wind at the Clemens farm came over a north-south shelterbelt at the farm, and dumped heavy, wet snow primarily on the west end of the east-west equipment building. The snow outside lay 2-feet deep on the level on the ground.
Mike’s father, John “Jack” Clemens had built the shed around 2000. A dual-purpose structure, its concrete slab at times had held 65,000 bushels of sunflowers or corn in flat storage. In December, the building was full of machinery. Fortunately, a large tractor and combine were out for service, and another had been sold and was parked outside.
Mike thought about cleaning off the roof, but temperatures dropped to minus 10, with wind.
On Dec. 16, 2022, the Clemens ventured out. Up to that point in the winter, the family had been using a payloader to clean the yard out. “We had just hooked up the snowblower on one tractor,” he said. “I blew a little snow and I thought I should go in the building and get a pair of sunglasses out of the tractor that’s in the back of the building.”
“I was in there for 20 minutes," Mike said. “I looked in the semi-(trailer tractor): no glasses there. I went up in the combine: no glasses in there. I went in the back corner where the big tractor was, and sure enough I found the glasses and a phone (charging) cord.”
As Mike walked toward the exit, he remembers looking up, and thinking he was happy to see no sagging. “This doing pretty good,” he thought. But then, Mike heard a piece of metal fall on the concrete floor.
“I’m thinking, ‘Now what the heck could that possibly be? I’d better go see what it is.’”
Like a parachute
He re-opened the big door and stepped inside to a big surprise. The roof came down like a “big parachute” displacing air from the top 10 feet of the building, pushing it out through the doors.
“All of a sudden a gust of wind come blowing out,” he said. Mike grabbed for the sliding doors, but the air pressure pushed them straight out.
"I ended up back out here in the snowbank. It was just unbelievable,” he said. “I got up and came back to the building, and said ... 'That really didn’t work out so well.'”
Mike looked around to see that the air force blew out the panels and trim on the east side of the building. Part of the roof fell down onto the floor, with its snow load. Every piece of metal seemed twisted. The building was holding quite a bit of equipment in it. Some chemical totes. A bin vacuum. A corn header.
Clemens thinks it’s unlikely he would have been crushed in the building. The parked machinery would have protected him from the falling roof. A parked semi-tractor trailer held up two beams. The auger on a combine held up another beam. Still, he feels lucky to have been outside at the time.
“That probably would have given me a heart attack in the danged building there,” he said.
Immediately after the collapse, and realizing he was unhurt, Mike texted his son and son-in-law to let them know what happened.
"They thought I was joking, but, no, I wasn’t joking at all,” he said.
Mike fired off some images to his friends. He called the insurance company to say, "Hey, we just had kind of a disaster out here.”
When it warmed up on Christmas Eve, the Clemens gathered their courage and took some back sheets off the east end of the building. They removed the girts — horizontal sheeting rails on the walls — and pulled off sheeting, before removing a tractor.
“I did go up on the roof before I went in, ’cuz I was a little nervous, for all the weight,” Mike said.
At age 66, he shoveled some of it himself — about 20 feet wide by 60 to 70 feet long off the edge of the building, he said. The heavy snow had settled into a foot of solid ice.
“You couldn’t blow it with a blower,” he said. "You had to chop it loose.”
Mike claimed he wasn’t worried about the roof work.
“I’m not a good surfer but I would have learned how to snow surf, or ‘snow board’ with my shovel that I had up on the roof there, and woulda rode ‘er down,” he said, half-joking. “Where the roof is really caved in here, now, obviously I’m not going to be going up there at all.”
He didn’t tell Pam he was going up there.
“She knows I do a lot of strange things, I don’t tell her about it,” he said. “She hears about it later and says, ‘Well, I’m glad you made it back.' The prayers worked that morning when we said our prayers before we left (for work) for the day. That’s always good.”
Looking ahead, the Clemens farms will replace the building, which had been covered by insurance, including a “snow peril” provision. They’ll reuse the concrete slab, but replace footings and make it wider and taller. Other buildings, including the shop with a heated, electric floor went unscathed. Is there any lesson in all of this?
Hmm, Mike thinks: “Just make sure your buildings are designed for North Dakota.”