Snow PROVIDES SOIL MOISTURE crops need to grow. Winter snowfall helps during the growing season because of the stored moisture that works its way down into the soil as the snow melts. No-till farming helps to trap snow and REDUCES DRIFTING. This allows for more even distribution of water into the soil as the snow melts. A layer of snow on winter wheat fields INSULATES THE DORMANT CROP. Wheat that is not protected by a blanket of snow can die—known as “winter kill”—in bitterly cold temperatures. An old saying about late spring snowfall is that it is “Poor man’s fertilizer.” Snow CONTAINS TRACE AMOUNTS OF NITROGEN from the atmosphere. The nitrogen will act as fertilizer for the next crop.
The amount of water in snow varies. A common rule of thumb is that ten inches of snow equates to 1 inch of water, or 10:1. This is true for snow that falls when the surface temperature is about 30ºF. If ground temperatures are between 33 and 36 ºF, the snow is “wetter.” In this case, about 8 inches of snow can contain 1 inch of water. Wet snow is often called “heart attack snow” because it is so heavy to shovel. If the entire atmosphere is 20ºF or colder the ratio may be closer to 30:1, or 30 inches of snow equaling 1 inch of water. This snow is lighter, and “drier.” The USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) studies snow using “low temperature scanning electron microscopy,” or incredibly powerful microscopes operated at freezing temperatures. This allows scientists to predict the amount of water that will be available to agriculture from snowpack.
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