STORMS PROVIDE INTERESTING ENVIRONMENTAL PERSPECTIVES
all know that adversity should be viewed as opportunity. Thus the recent
ice storm that eliminated almost all electrical power over an extensive
region in the Southeast and negatively affected thousands of families
should surely have some upsides. I decided to try and find them.
"storm" is an overstatement because an ice storm can be as
gentle as a light, misty rain. The catch is that while nearly frozen
water falls from the sky, the temperature hovers at or slightly below
freezing. The steady precipitation covers limbs, leaves, and power lines,
and then freezes, leaving a coating like icing on a cake.
is gradual, but the effects can be devastating for anyone dependent
on electricity. Large tree limbs hanging over decks, houses, or swimming
pools can lead to costly damage. Travel on icy roads strewn with fallen
trees can be hazardous.
the aftermath of an ice rain can provide absolutely stunning spectacles
with an awesome sound track, one of Mother Nature's no-charge entertainment
programs. I stood on the porch absolutely enthralled by the silver glaze
on the vegetation and listening to the gunfire popping of trees as limbs
and foot-diameter trunks broke like kindling. I was also terrified that
one might come crashing down where I stood, which led to mixed feelings
as wonder, awe, excitement, and apprehension vied with each other. Northerners
have impressive blizzards, but a southern ice storm is not to be trifled
with. Among the positives: plenty of firewood is now on the ground for
ecological perspective, ice storms can be instructive regarding how
plants can be well adapted for one type of weather but be at the mercy
of the elements for another. Evergreen species vary greatly in the Southeast.
Longleaf and loblolly pines are better adapted to cold conditions than
the more southerly slash pines.
or loblolly may forfeit a few limbs, whereas many slash pines are unlikely
to make it through a first-class ice storm. Laden with a sheet of ice,
their brittle limbs break, and with their more shallow root systems,
even a slight wind can make the entire tree topple over. Slash pines
do best in Florida, where ice storms are uncommon.
a tree was evergreen or deciduous seemed to make no difference to how
a one-inch coating of ice affected it. The day after the ice attack
ended, I saw dozens of cherry laurel, a small, broad-leaved evergreen
tree, snapped in half by the weight of the ice. Some were more than
20 feet tall.
were leaning almost to the ground, their roots lifting up a mound of
earth. Leafless oak limbs several inches in diameter were on the ground
or still hanging high in the trees themselves. Among the hardest hit
were large red maple trees, with huge branches breaking off up to 50
feet above the ground.
the following may not hold under all ice rain conditions, I found that
American holly trees had suffered little. Holly leaves have several
needle-sharp points on their ends and sides. The spines serve as drip
tips, perfect conduits for cold rain to run off and a useful trait for
an evergreen whose leaves might break if weighted down with ice. Rain
may not stay long enough on a holly leaf to freeze, but for many trees
a positive feature of an ice storm is that natural pruning occurs, removing
weakened or diseased limbs.
issues remain to be contemplated concerning how nature's creatures,
including ourselves, respond to ice storms. I am saving such entertaining
thoughts for the next time I spend several 12-hour nights in a dark,
cold house. One upside of a weather catastrophe such as an ice storm,
hurricane, or tornado is not having to pay an electric bill for several
days. But for most people, that does not at all make up for the negative
aspects of such extraordinary natural events.
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