With this past winter being so snowy and frigid throughout New Jersey and much of the Northeast, it was interesting to notice the number of people who became grouchy with the forecast of snow. The thought of a snow day was great as a child, as it meant waking up to see the ground covered in a blanket of white, sledding or making snowmen for hours, and coming inside for a cup of hot chocolate. As adults, we are burdened with the not-so-fun parts of the snowstorms, such as shoveling out half-buried cars, scraping ice off windshields, and worrying about dangerous road conditions. It is important for everyone to stop and remember the bright side of snow, including environmental impacts.
There are many ways snowfall can positively impact the environment. One of the biggest impacts begins with the composition of snow. Snow is a natural insulator, and during periods of extreme cold, the ground will actually be significantly warmer if there is a layer of snow on top.
A blanket of snow protects the ground from freezing, preventing damage to tree roots and keeping plants from dying of thirst. This gives plant life a jump-start for the spring. The layer of insulation also provides a protective environment for small animals, such as mice, rabbits and birds that need to be shielded from harsh winds.
Another environmental benefit of snow is when it begins to melt. Farmers depend on snow in the winter because, as it melts, it is absorbed by the soil and helps provide the right amount of ground moisture for planting in the spring. Heavy snowfall can also recharge rivers, lakes and wetlands as it melts. This can improve natural habitats that provide life to plants and animals.
Best of all, cold temperatures decrease the survival rates of invasive insects. If you are not a fan of disease-carrying mosquitoes, then be thankful that the larvae hiding out in New Jersey did not survive the harsh temperatures and sub-zero wind chills we have been experiencing. The same goes for the gypsy moth, a destructive leaf-eater, and the emerald ash borer, an insect that has devastated forests by feeding on tree bark. Thanks to the cold winter, we will be seeing fewer of these meddling insects during spring and summer. Hopefully, this will give plants and trees an opportunity to thrive this year instead of being damaged by unwelcome guests.
It is fascinating to reflect on how this seemingly desolate winter actually has provided hope for a greener spring. While I hope that I won’t be seeing another snowflake this year, I will be sure to remember the snow when the flowers start blooming on campus.
Printed in the 03/25/15 issue.