11/29/2010

Snow In The Coastal Forest

View from Willis Point, Carolyn Rowins
Winter is a dangerous time for coastal trees and forests. Snow, ice, and wind can combine forces with devastating effect. Powerful winter storms are nature's tree trimmers and fallers. They also create havoc for those of us living under the trees.

In Vancouver Island's recent snowfall many residents were without power for up to a day. The snow came with record cold temperatures for November, so a day without power would be uncomfortable for the unprepared.

Last year there was not a flake of snow at sea level in Sooke, but the year before that there was snow on the ground for several weeks in a row. Winter is unpredictable along the coast.

Trees heavy with snow at Cobble Hill, Christina D.
When coastal snowfalls happen they tend to be of the heavy, wet variety. Sometimes the weight of snow causes trees to lose their tops or a few branches. When conditions are right trees wobble under the load and fall down. Often they take power lines with them.

Having the power go out can be an inconvenience, but it almost seems worth it to see the forest altered and transformed. Snow covered individual trees stand out from the common background of forest. All is quiet and muffled. It is a rare treat.

Ultimately, damaged, injured or toppled trees end up creating more diversity in the forest environment as other living things take advantage of storm damaged trees for food and habitat. Winter can be a beautiful and powerful agent of change in the forest.

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