A Snowy Winter Ahead?

— Written By
Snow on tree

Snowy weather is particularly damaging to evergreens.

Weather has a huge impact on plant growth. Extreme temperatures, drought, heavy rainfall, snow and ice can all contribute to crop failure and cause serious damage to landscape plants. Being aware of seasonal weather predictions can help you plan for and mitigate the effects of damaging weather events, while reflecting on recent conditions and their variation from normal can help you understand why plantings failed or were particularly successful.

The NC Climate Office at NC State University offers an extremely useful and free tool to help you stay up to date on recent weather events and emerging trends – the Climate Blog. Their recent series of blog posts discusses predictions for the coming winter, which looks to be snowier than normal – especially as we head into January. The Climate Office’s outlook for the winter was summarized in their Nov. 23 posting, as follows:

“Even though meteorological winter begins December 1st, don’t expect an immediate shift to a wintry pattern then. We expect near- to above-normal temperatures this December with few to no wintry events, thanks in part to a strong polar vortex and more northerly storm track for most of the month.

Several indicators suggest that January will see a transition to a colder and more wintry pattern. As the atmospheric impacts of El Niño and Siberian snow accumulations kick in, polar conditions should become more favorable to supplying cold air across the Southeast US.

We anticipate the favorable wintry regime will continue into February, with ongoing potential for cold air to interact with moisture-laden coastal storms.

As the current El Niño event weakens heading into March, the active storm track and cold air availability is also expected to wane, likely signaling an end to wintry potential. This could happen as early as mid-to-late February or possibly early March.” source

North Carolina snowfall map

Average snowfall amounts for years with conditions similar to this winter.

Just how much snow are we talking about? The graphic posted on the right illustrates what we could expect based on the average of snowfall amounts in years with conditions most similar to this year. For most areas of the state this means at least 2″ more than a typical year. In the Piedmont this could mean total accumulations of 4″ to 12″ over the winter.

Preparing Your Landscape

So, exactly how are you supposed to prepare your landscape for a snowy winter? If you don’t already own a good set of pruning tools (hand pruners, loppers, and a folding pruning saw), add them to your Christmas list. It would also be a good idea to spend some of these long winter nights studying up on training and pruning techniques that improve the structure of trees and shrubs.

I’m not recommending you rush out to cut back all your trees and shrubs – far from it. But keep in mind a few judicial, well-placed pruning cuts when a tree is young can make the difference between a few broken limbs and complete collapse later in life when the tree is weighed down under a load of snow.

Learn More!

These posts provide many tips and resources that will help you prepare your landscape for snow:

The Climate Blog is only one of many excellent resources provided on the NC Climate Office website. Explore others here: http://climate.ncsu.edu/

To read past posts and subscribe to the Climate Blog, visit: http://climate.ncsu.edu/climateblog

Use Extension Search to find research based information from Cooperative Extension systems across the U.S.

Visit your local Cooperative Extension center to learn more about gardening and landscape care. Find your county Extension center or post your questions to be answered online via Extension’s ‘Ask an Expert’ widget.

Subscribe to the Chatham Gardener email list to receive timely updates on sustainable lawn, garden, and landscape care for the central NC Piedmont. To subscribe: