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Install snow fence properly to reduce drifting

Moving snow is a never-ending chore in the winter, but strategically placing snow fence can help reduce drifting and save time and energy. 

Kristina Tebockhorst is an Extension ag engineering specialist at Iowa State University. She says the best fencing material is half solid and half open. Heavy-duty, prefabricated plastic fence is a good choice, but wooden slat or lath fences work well too. 

The purpose of the fence isn't to stop the snow from blowing. It actually allows the snow to blow through, but the wind is slowed down enough that it drops the snow on the other side of the fence. 

The distance that you put the fence away from the area you’re trying to protect is the key. Most of the snow will be deposited on the ground within a distance of about 20 times the snow fence height, although in severe winters, drifts can reach 30 times the fence height. If the fence is placed too close, the drifts may be worse than if there was no fence at all.

"It’s typically recommended somewhere between 20, to 30, or 35 times the height of the fence should be the distance away from, for example the road, if you’re trying to control drifting on the road," she says. So if your fence is 4 feet tall and the wind blows toward your road from the north, you should place the fence 80 to 140 feet feet north of the road. 

Installing snow fence

The experts at Iowa State University Extension offer these tips for snow fence installation:

  • Place fences perpendicular to the prevailing wind direction. For example, if the wind typically comes from the north, the fence should run east and west.
  • Build the fence as long as possible, well beyond the length of the zone you want to protect.
  • READ MORE: 20 fence fix-ups from All Around the Farm
  • Leave a gap of 6 inches between the bottom of the fence and the ground to keep the fence from getting buried.
  • Set steel posts on 8-foot centers.
  • Support end posts by driving another steel post into the ground at an angle and wiring the end post and brace post together.
  • If using plastic fencing, sandwich the material between two wood laths and wire them tightly to steel posts at the top, middle, and bottom of the fence.

Living fence

Vegetation can also trap a lot of snow. Tebockhorst says some states have programs that compensate landowners to leave 8-to-16 rows of corn in a field that runs parallel to a road.

"They also have a CRP living snow fence program in many states, and your local NRCS office can let you know if that program is available and if you might be in an area that would be useful for a living snow fence, a couple rows of living vegetation like shrubs and trees," she says.

According to ecologist Jim Brandle with the University of Nebraska, living windbreaks are also useful to protect livestock from winter winds and snow.

He recommends planting three rows of trees on the north and west sides of the lot, with one being a conifer. The innermost row can be shorter, like a shrub. However, he says rows shouldn't be planted on the south because that can block summer breezes and increase heat stress for the animals.

Another tip is to keep grass and weeds mowed right next to the road or driveway. They act as a mini snow fence, creating drifts right where you don't want them.

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