Q I have a flat roof, and it seems as if there is a ton of snow on it. Is that more of a problem than snow on other roofs? And what should I do about ice in the gutters?

A Most roofs constructed to code are likely to be fine. But the weight of the snow, combined with rain predicted for Friday and Saturday, could cause a flat roof to collapse.

The Maryland Emergency Management Agency is advising owners to clear flat roofs of significant snow to prevent leaks. If you know how to do it safely, proceed carefully. If not, get professional help.

Special attention should be given to clearing drains and gutters of ice or other obstructions. Again, get professional help unless you know how to do this safely.

I shoveled my sidewalk, and my back hurts. Is there a correct way to shovel?

Yes. Doctors suggest warming up with light exercises before shoveling. Wear shoes with slip-resistant soles and shovel in small, manageable bites.

Work for a few minutes, then stop for 15 to 20 seconds. Frequent, brief breaks will delay fatigue significantly, and fatigue can lead to sprained ligaments, strained muscles and tendons and more serious spinal injuries.

Push the snow in front of you when possible, but if you have to hoist it, lift by bending the knees, collecting the snow and standing up without bending your back. Walk it to where it will be deposited; don't throw it through the air. If you are out of shape or have back problems, pay someone to shovel for you.

Snow is covering the gas and electric meters at my house. Should I clear them?

Yes, but do so carefully. Washington Gas suggests that you use a broom or brush and not a shovel to clear meters and pipes of snow and icicles. This will prevent snow from melting and leaking into the equipment, which can cause it to malfunction. If you have natural gas appliances with intake or exhaust vents that go through outside walls, be sure snow isn't blocking those openings.

Is there anything else in the neighborhood residents should try to clear?

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) is urging citizens to clear any blocked storm drains to help facilitate drainage.

My car has been buried in snow for a few days. When I finally dig it out, will it start?

Maybe, maybe not. If your battery is more than three years old, it could be living on borrowed time. Temperatures in the teens can sap the strength of the average battery.

If you can't get the car out, clear snow away from the tailpipe to keep carbon monoxide out of the car and run the engine for 20 minutes once every few days. Do not under any circumstances stay in a parked, running car for long.

We're dealing with massive amounts of snow, and now I hear we could have very heavy rain at week's end. Is it going to flood?

Maybe. The National Weather Service is predicting a warming trend, coinciding with heavy rain on Friday and Saturday. The Maryland Emergency Management Agency says it is concerned about a repeat of 1996, when a severe winter storm was followed by a warming trend that melted the snow quickly and caused considerable flooding.

The agency urges everyone to listen to the radio or television for updates. If you hear a flood warning, use common sense: Don't attempt to cross flowing streams.

If you are driving or walking on streets that are flooding, seek higher ground immediately. If your car stalls, don't try to get it started again; get out immediately and seek higher ground.

Is there anything I can do to protect my home from flooding?

You can cover basement window wells temporarily, direct downspouts away from the foundation of your house and remove debris from drains and gutters. Tie down lawn furniture. Make sure your sump pump is working.

If your house is prone to flooding and you suspect you will wind up pumping out water at some point, you can rent a portable pump; some homeowners' insurance policies will cover the cost. Learn about your water, electrical and heating systems, at least enough to know where the main shut-offs are.

What other kind of storm damage will insurance policies cover?

Policies differ. Generally, they cover damage from rain coming through a leaky roof or a broken window but will not cover flooding, including seepage in the basement. If your car floods and you have comprehensive coverage, insurance will pay.

If a tree falls and damages a structure, the insurance carried by the structure's owner pays, and your insurance pays if a neighbor's tree hits your house. But if a tree falls and hits nothing but the ground, insurance will not pay to clean it up.

-- Valerie Strauss