ML Wells, Master Gardener Volunteer, Allegany County Cooperative Extension
While the wind howls and huffs and puffs and howls near the force of a hurricane (75 mph), I’m like one of the three little pigs in the last house felt. In a few hours the temperature dropped 35 degrees. I couldn’t see the forest in the wetlands 600 feet away. A generation of blizzards arrived in western New York over Christmas weekend.
I’m not going anywhere, so my next column will be about windbreaks!
Thirty-five years ago I planted 50 1-foot tall white spruce trees, 3 years old, in 3 rows 10 feet apart. This was about 200 feet west of the house. Now, about a third of a century later, they stand 30 feet tall and their wind shadow extends 300 feet downwind to the east.
Leaving the four lanes of central Kansas and heading west, you notice that the eastern forests are shrinking and then disappearing. By mid-Kansas, you’ve left the next herd of tallgrass meadows behind, the rest embracing the riverbanks. In short order, the weedy prairies are left behind, and at the eastern Colorado border, we are in the true desert (less than 10 inches of rainfall per year), the Shortgrass Prairie.
After the Civil War, European settlers began arriving in droves. By the ’30s they began planting windbreaks to the north and west of the house. Usually these trees are also immigrant, hardy trees, Norwegian spruce from Scandinavia. Its protection made life there bearable, especially during the winter months. It provided habitat for birds and small mammals. It provided a pathway for eastern birds such as chickadee and woodpeckers to expand westward into former alien environments.
So let’s go back to the blizzard of our generation. To become a blizzard, a storm he must meet three criteria. 1) Lasts at least 3 hours, 2) Average wind speed is 35 miles per hour, 3) Visibility is reduced to 1/4 mile.
Here on the hill the temperature dropped 10 degrees in 20 minutes. On Friday, December 23, 2022, at 9:00 am, the temperature dropped from 34 degrees to -5 degrees within 12 hours! And the wind howled for two and a half days.
PS With 50 mph winds and minus 8 degrees, that meant the wind chill factor felt like below minus 40 degrees – BRRRR!