Ask any winter sports enthusiast and they’ll say they love lots of snow on the ground. Likewise, ask any tree and it will say it wants snow over its roots in the winter. But nobody who has to walk on snow-packed sidewalks or drive on icy streets will enjoy having snow underfoot or under their tires. However, these people might not get as annoyed by a snowfall if they knew of snow’s benefits, such as:
INSULATION – A snow cover on the ground provides insulation that prevents ground temperatures from alternately freezing and thawing. This fluctuation causes water in the soil to expand and contract, thus damaging the root system of trees and shrubs.
Since most plants won’t begin to grow in the spring until they’ve had exposure to a certain number of days of cold temperatures, a snow cover will limit the detrimental effect of warm days, especially during lengthy warm spells. Also, by keeping ground temperatures below freezing, snow will prevent plants from coming up too early.
Additionally, animals benefit from snow cover’s insulating protection against frigid temperatures and high winds. And in a winter when there’s not been a good snow cover, the frost may penetrate so deeply that there could be a problem with pipes freezing.
FERTILIZER – Snow has been called “poor man’s fertilizer.” As snow forms and falls through the atmosphere, it collects atmospheric nitrates. As the snow melts, it allows the slow release of this nitrogen without the negative effects of harsh commercial fertilizers. In areas of high air pollution from automobiles and power plants, a snowfall will contain more nitrogen compounds, which is good for the nutrient content of area gardens, but the pollution is not so good for the environment.
Snow also helps to break down the previous season’s leaves and grass into a nutritious mulch that will feed the spring’s growing plants.
MOISTURE – Snow replenishes the water supply for plants and animals. Although the rapid melting of snow can cause flooding, especially in urban areas which have a high percentage of impervious surfaces that do not allow water to drain into the soil, the slow melting of snow will provide needed moisture to gardens and woodlands, fill rivers and reservoirs in many regions (notably the western U.S.), puddle in low-lying areas to provide drinking water for animals, and percolate through the soil and refill the aquifers that provide water for agriculture and human consumption.
BEAUTY – Whether a snow scene is viewed as a winter wonderland or as travel chaos, it’s hard not to appreciate the additional beauty that a snowfall bestows on an already special place like Riverwoods. Or, as a couple of writers so descriptively put it:
“There is nothing in the world more beautiful than the forest clothed to its very hollows in snow. It is the still ecstasy of nature, wherein every spray, every blade of grass, ever spire of reed, every intricacy of twig, is clad with radiance.” (William Sharp, Scottish poet and literary biographer, 1855-1905.)
“The first fall of snow is not only an event, it is a magical event. You go to bed in one kind of a world and wake up in another quite different, and if this is not enchantment then where is it to be found?” (J.B. Priestley, British writer, 1894-1984.)