As I look out my office window here in Douglas, Wyoming the first snow of the season is falling. Most people recognize that snow is important for many reasons. It fills rivers, streams, lakes, and reservoirs. They also may know that melting snow can also soak into the ground contributing to soil moisture available for plant growth and aquifer recharge. However, snow serves many other important purposes.
Did you know that snow cover provides insulation for small mammals, birds, and even sage grouse against Wyoming’s harsh winter winds and temperatures? Air pockets under the snow can be used by these animals as areas to escape predators, maintain body temperature, forage for food, and just live and wait out cold temperatures experienced above the snow.
Insects that live in the soil or on the soil surface, use snows’ insulating properties to survive winter similar to how fall planted crops use the snow for survival. For example winter wheat does better when there is a covering of snow than during dry, snowless winters—there is less freeze damage to the plants.
Snow also can provide farmers with nutrients for their fields. Snowflakes actually trap and dissolve organic nitrogen, nitrate, and ammonium from the atmosphere, delivering it to the field as they fall to the ground.
Snow cover is very important in regulating the exchange of heat between the earth’s surface and the atmosphere. This energy exchange is needed to maintain optimal climate conditions for life. Snow also reflects solar heat back into the atmosphere, which keeps the planet cooler. Many times we curse the snow, especially if we have to travel or work outdoors, but snow cover is very important to agriculture across Wyoming and across the globe.
How does snow help you in your line of work or on your agriculture operation? Comment below to share your ideas and thoughts.