If you’ve driven along the interstate in the high plains, especially in states such as Wyoming and Colorado, you’ve no doubt seen the tall wooden fences that parallel the road for what seems like miles on end. Despite their appearance, these fences aren’t for preventing grazing livestock from wandering onto the interstate, but rather to prevent a much slipperier foe from impeding your travels: snow. In states where heavy snowfall is a regular seasonal occurrence, snow fences save millions of dollars each year in snow-removal costs by reducing its buildup on the road. However, the benefits of snow fences can also be enjoyed by landowners.
How Do Snow Fences Work?
To the contrary of what you might think, snow fences actually create snowdrifts rather than preventing them, but where they create those drifts is beneficial. Snow fences cause turbulence in the air, and as wind flows through them it slows down, causing snow to accumulate in drifts on the downwind side of the fence. Essentially, snow fences allow us to control where snowdrifts pile up, preventing drifts from reaching roadways and driveways, and providing irrigation advantages for landowners.
Types of Snow Fences
Snow fences can be constructed as either a temporary measure or as a permanent installation. Temporary snow fences can be made from perforated plastic sheeting similar to what you would find at a construction site, or wooden slats attached to metal stakes. Permanent snow fences can be either man-made wooden slat fences or closely spaced lines of shrubs or coniferous trees. Temporary snow fences can be an ideal stopgap solution for landowners that have planted a natural snow fence, but need to wait a few years before the shrubs or trees are mature enough to do the job effectively on their own.
Uses for Landowners
Just as snow fences help keep public roads clear of snow in the winter, they can do the same for driveways and roads on your land. A properly placed snow fence can reduce the amount of time you need to spend keeping your road system clear and help provide better access to you land during the winter. Snow fences are also useful for irrigation and stock tanks. By placing snow fences to create drifts in irrigation ditches and near ponds you can take advantage of additional water where you need it once things thaw out.
Setting Up Your Snow Fence
Your snow fence should be installed upwind of the area you want to keep clear. Most areas have prevailing winds that come out of one general direction in the winter, often the north or west. If this is the case, place your snow fence to the north or northwest of the area you’re trying to protect. Most experts agree that snow fences should be placed 35 times the height of the fence away from the area you want to keep clear. For a four-foot-high fence this would be a distance of 140 feet, though some have had luck with shorter distances depending on the strength of the winds and moisture content of the snow. It’s best to experiment with temporary fences for a few winters to find out what placement is most effective before building or planting a permanent fence.
Ideally, you should set up your snow fence with a gap underneath of at least five inches. The larger the gap is, the farther away from the fence the drift will start. With too little a gap, snowdrifts will accumulate right at the fence, reducing its effective height and making the fence itself ineffective. Remember when installing this fence that it will need to bear the load of snow and wind, so robust construction is important. Place your posts no more than eight feet apart, or even closer in areas with high winds. You can also secure the ends of the fence with additional support wires if you anticipate heavy winds and snow loads.
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