Damaging Snowfalls

Spring has arrived! And while this wasn’t the post I expected to publish today thanks to the snowstorm that appeared overnight but it is spring and one thing that I’ve learned from living in Northern Colorado – like the weather, you need to be flexible.

One of the few questions I’ve not been able to answer since arriving in Fort Collins is “What’s your favorite season?” Were I still living in the Pacific Northwest, the answer would be easy – it would be late summer when the hard work and effort of Spring could be seen in the garden and on the table. But here in the Front Range, it is a question with no answer, primarily because the seasons are fleeting.

It’s never really summer, or fall, or winter or spring for any stretch of time. Colorado, I’ve learned does not have seasons, it has moods.

In a single day you can rise to find the skies filled with clouds and a mist hovering in the air only to later emerge from work to find that it is sunny and 70-degrees. When you rest your head for the night, the skies will be clear but when you wake the next morning there can be several inches of snow on the ground – which is what happened this week.

Yesterday we welcomed spring with open doors and windows, and this morning our alarms were text notification alerting us that school was canceled due to a thick and heavy blanket of snow on the ground and in our trees.

Now, while the kids are out playing in the snow and celebrating Nature’s gift of a day free of structure, I am cautiously looking out the window, watching the trees weave and bob in the wind, weighted down by this heavy, heavy, snow.

It’s a habit that I’ve developed after watching mature trees suffer tremendous damage in years past from two similar events.

This storm is eerily similar to the spring snow of 2003. That one caused the roof of the BedBath&Beyond/Old Navy building to collapse. For us, an ornamental cherry original to the house was lost when the weight of the snow caused the crown to split into three huge pieces of lumber.

BW's Tree - a survivor of the 2003 Spring snowfall

A few months later, as spring turned into summer, we discovered a lone sucker from the original tree was growing into a strong sapling. It was also at this time that we discovered we were pregnant with a child that we were told was not likely to ever be – thus the sapling was named BW’s tree. Now, 12 years later, I’m watching and hoping that this tree’s fate isn’t the same as its predecessor.

Another ornamental in our yard has already lost one major branch due to a poor branch-to-trunk angle and will need careful pruning after the remnants of this storm passes.

small tree with snow damage

Instead of a morning filled with the noise and chaos of getting ready to rush out the door for work and school, the kids slept in and I bundled up to carefully shake snow off of the tree-like shrubs and branches that I can reach to avoid any further snow damage.

If you are concerned about the trees on your property –

  • When snow sticks to fences and tree trunks, its a sign that the moisture content is higher than usual, make sure your trees are ok.
  • Be sure to assess the area before you begin working with small trees/large shrubs and other woody ornamentals  – when in doubt don’t do anything. It’s better to wait out the situation or hire a qualified individual than put your or anyone’s life in jeopardy.
  • If there is ice or branches are audibly cracking or visually arched, don’t approach them. This is especially true for larger trees – branches can snap in an instant and are deadly – there is a reason they are referred to as Widow Makers.
  • ALWAYS wear the proper clothing and equiptment.
  • If it’s safe, and the tree is only a couple of feet taller than you are, you can use a broom or similarly long handled tool to knock snow off from the areas you can’t quite reach.
  • For branches you can reach, and for smaller shrubs, firmly, but gently shake the snow off. If you hear cracking or popping, the wood is stressed, don’t work it anymore.
  • Leave the large trees to the experienced experts, they have the tools and techniques that are needed to properly work in and around them.
  • If you happen to experience significant damage contact a reputable arborist or contact the City of Fort Collins’ Forestry office at (970) 221-6660, or email Ralph Zentz at rzentz@fcgov.com or DeNe Cameron at dcameron@fcgov.com.

Factoid: It is unlawful to do ‘tree work’ within Fort Collins if you do not have a current arborist license. (source: http://www.fcgov.com/forestry/hiringarborist.php )

In 2013 an early autumn ice storm that also followed a beautiful 70-degree day caused catastrophic damage to the two cottonwoods and apple in our backyard. We fearfully huddled through the night as the branches, not yet hardened for the winter, were overwhelmed by the weight of snow and ice cracked, thumped, and then crashed onto the roof overhead.

Debris from an ice storm

Our home was shaken to its core. We later found that two of our three bathrooms required extensive repairs after the force of a 24” branch falling squarely onto the stove pipe rippled through the plumbing and causing shear wherever it wasn’t flexible enough to adjust. Fencing, one deck, rails of another, roofing, and gutters were damaged and required repair or replacement.

Areas throughout the entire city suffered massive damages to the point that the City’s Streets Department announced that they would remove any trees or branches located in the street right of ways.

Ice storm debris pile

To this day, I am ever-so thankful for our neighbors – with their help, the damage from our trees resulted in a pile of debris 11 feet high, 75 feet long, and 13 feet wide. We’d been neighborly before this event, now we are a community.

So as I nervously drink my coffee and watch the trees from the various windows in the house as the occasional WHUMP of snow can be heard overhead, I can’t help but reflect on past events, and hope that the boughs are strong enough to weather this storm.

At the same time, I know that I’m not alone in this alone in this uneasy feeling; what have you experienced with similar snowfalls, and how did it turn out for you?

Until next time, be safe, be warm, keep your critters comfortable, and if you have to venture out to care for you and yours, may the road rise to meet you, or so the Irish Prayer begins.





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