Please, bring more snow

Bring on the snow! The more we get in central Pennsylvania, the better. No, not for kids and their hope for delays and cancellations but for our plants and groundwater. Some residents hope for a snowless winter, a snow drought, but a very white winter’s impact is way more beneficial than negative.

Just like the stock market has whip-sawed around the past week, so have our winter temperatures over the past month. AccuWeather shows the temperature in Lock Haven on Jan. 5 having a high/low of 10/2 F. Fast forward one week to the 12th, and the area experienced temperatures of 62/36 F.

A snow cover provides insulation and protects plants from this repeated freezing and thawing. The danger with this process is that soil expands and contracts, often lifting perennials out of the ground. In addition, shallow roots of trees and shrubs could be damaged. If the area starts to experience frequent snow droughts, consider a mulch application in the fall that could also serve as ground insulation.

The other important aspect of snow is water. The general rule of thumb is that 10 inches of snow equate to 1 inch of water. That ratio changes depending on snow type, such as powdery snowfall versus a heavy wet snow. Regardless, as snow melts, the moisture slowly works its way into the soil profile over a number of days.

Contrast that to a moisture event we had last summer. The July 25 edition of the Lock Haven Express showcased several pictures of road closures due to heavy rains. The Clinton County Sewage Treatment Plant recorded more than four inches of rainfall over the two previous days. While some of this water worked its way into the soil, much of it ran off into nearby streams, roadways, and culverts.

Finally, there is the benefit to our potable water. Penn State University estimates that over 3 million rural residents rely on a private water system (such as wells) for their home water supply. The winter snows are a critical component to keeping this system charged. Our water tables are typically at their highest in late winter and early spring as melting snow and gentle spring rains move into the soil. As the months progress with warmer temperatures, higher water usage (by both plants and humans), and less rain, the water table lowers.

Winter is short so enjoy the beauty and benefits of the snow. Before you know it, we’ll be floating and swimming in the waterways of central Pennsylvania, thanks in part to winter snows.


Tom Butzler is a horticulture educator with the Pennsylvania State University Cooperative Extension Service and may be reached at 570-726-0022.