Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Skip to main content

Roof Collapse Due to Snow Loads? There’s an Expert for That


Media Relations

February 15, 2015

Roof Collapse Due to Snow Loads? There’s an Expert for That

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Michael O’Rourke Is a Guy Who Knows Snow

Troy, N.Y. — With numerous winter storms impacting multiple portions of the country, there is much concern regarding roof collapses due to snow loads. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute professor of civil and environmental engineering Michael O’Rourke wrote the book that is critical for preventing roofs from caving in under the weight of snow. Snow Loads was published by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) in 2010. He has been chair of the American Society of Civil Engineers Snow and Rain Load committee since 1997, charged with developing snow load provisions for the nation’s building codes, and a member since 1978.

“One of the most important ways structural engineers protect people and property from snow-related collapse is via well-crafted building codes and load standards,” said O’Rourke.” The trick is to properly balance risk and cost.”

Snow drift loads are considered particularly important since, at least in the United States, they account for approximately 75 percent of all snow-related building collapses.

O’Rourke completed the ASCE Snow Guide for the 2010 version of the ASCE 7 Load Standard. Over the years, the book has served as an essential tool for any practicing engineer, architect, or construction professional who works on projects in snowy areas. The book presents design examples of the proper application of the code provisions related to snow loading. This means the book has finely-tuned data and guides related to building and repairing houses and other buildings so they are up to building code standards and have roofs that are tough enough to handle a nasty winter.

O’Rourke is a faculty member in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Rensselaer, and he is also affiliated with the university’s Center for Earthquake Engineering Simulation. O’Rourke joined the Rensselaer faculty in 1974, after serving as instructor and professor for four years at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. An active researcher at Rensselaer, he has led 18 snow loading research projects sponsored by different organizations, including the National Science Foundation (NSF), U.S. Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (CRREL), National Bureau of Standards, and Metal Building Manufacturers Association.

In collaboration with his students and colleagues, O’Rourke has authored more than 40 peer-reviewed journal papers and conference proceedings on the topic of snow loading. In his time at Rensselaer, O’Rourke has advised 61 master’s degree students and 10 doctoral students – 22 of those theses were on different aspects of snow loading on building roofs.

O’Rourke is definitely a guy who knows snow. He was a co-organizer of the first two International Snow Engineering Conferences, the organizer of the sixth, and served on the organizing committee for many others. He was an editor of the Proceedings of the 4th U.S. Conference on Lifeline Earthquake  Engineering. In 2001, he received the ASCE C. Martin Duke Lifeline Earthquake Engineering Award.

After receiving his bachelor’s degree from the Illinois Institute of Technology, O’Rourke went on to earn his master’s and doctoral degrees in civil engineering from Northwestern University

To boot, he was also quoted as a bridge and load expert by the New York Times a few years ago in the wake of the tragic Minneapolis bridge collapse.



For general inquiries:

About Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Founded in 1824, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is America’s first technological research university. Rensselaer encompasses five schools, over 30 research centers, more than 140 academic programs including 25 new programs, and a dynamic community made up of over 6,800 students and 104,000 living alumni. Rensselaer faculty and alumni include upwards of 155 National Academy members, six members of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, six National Medal of Technology winners, five National Medal of Science winners, and a Nobel Prize winner in Physics. With nearly 200 years of experience advancing scientific and technological knowledge, Rensselaer remains focused on addressing global challenges with a spirit of ingenuity and collaboration. To learn more, please visit