Minnesota Farmer


The art of the snow fence
December 2, 2013, 11:33 am
Filed under: Farm, Minnesota, projects, snow, Trees, weather, wind, winter | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Here on the northern prairie we know snow fences.  We have to.  When the cold winter winds start blowing around winters moisture the beauty of snow turns ugly.  That being said, there are good snow fences and poor snow fences.  There is an art to making a good snow fence.  Now I’m not saying snow fences are artistic, but that there is an art in the placement and building of a snow fence.100_2509Trees are natures snow fence.  Where they grow there will be snow deposited nearby.  A farmstead wind break, or a fence line of trees can stop a lot of blowing snow.  But trees or snow fences in the wrong place can be a disaster.

We had a non-prairie native move in near us a few years back.  They tried to put up a snow fence the way you would put up fences to keep livestock contained.  They had a line of snow fence on each side of their driveway about 5 feet out.  It happened to be a very snowy and blowy winter, and they had 4 feet of snow on their driveway anytime we got a whisper of wind.  Snow fences need to be placed back from the road 50 to 75 feet.  That gives the snow a place to pile up in the lee of the fence or tree line.

The best place for a snow fence is up wind of what you are trying to protect, but wind can be variable, so a long fence may be needed.  Our winter winds here in southwestern Minnesota are mostly from the north or northwest, but west and even south or easterly winds can blow in and deposit snow.  For us, snow protection is needed both north and west of the buildings.

We have a gap in the trees just west of our house that funnels snow onto our driveway.  Snow fences across that gap, or just up or down wind of that gap, can leave a good sized deposit of snow.  The snow is then stopped on the lawn, and not on the driveway.

Buildings can also funnel snow between them.  Anyplace the wind is compressed into a narrow space there will be less snow, but just down wind there will be large drifts.  A snow fence just up wind from that gap, not in the gap, will stop a lot of problems down wind.

We had a neighbor whose house was set just wrong for wind one winter.  The snow came around the grove of trees and deposited on the east side of the house.  Snow was piled to the second floor windows.  In this case a snow fence was needed where they could not put one since a major highway runs just west of the house.

100_2532A snow fence does not have to be solid.  Wood slats or plastic with holes in it will work better than a solid wall.  You are slowing down the wind so that it will drop it’s snow.  It does not need great height either since the ground drifting snow is what you are trying to stop.

Your posts need to be at least a foot taller than the finished height of the fence and can be placed from 5 to 8 feet apart depending on wind conditions and soil type.  I prefer to place my posts for the snow fence in late fall while the ground is still unfrozen.  If I did not do this, the winds will push my fence and the posts over before the snow comes.

Once the ground freezes I can hang the fence.  I leave a bit of room under the fence for the wind to clear out the snow.  This actually allows the snow to pile higher downwind of the fence.

Whenever possible, I like to anchor the ends of my fence on trees.  A tree has a much better grip on the earth than a little steel post.  If you cannot anchor on a tree, guy wires should be placed at each end of the snow fencing run. These guy wires should be run parallel to the fence and be secured to posts driven into the ground.  The guy wires should run from the top of the post by the fence to the base of the anchor post.  It is best to have holes in the posts to run the guy wire through.  Do not skimp on the guy wire.  The end anchor posts and attached guy wires are critical to the longevity of your snow fence.

I like to wrap my snow fence ends around the end anchor post or tree.  I then use a rebar to “stitch” the end of the fence to itself.  This also works for stitching two pieces of plastic snow fence together.

The snow fence must be placed on the up wind side of the posts.  This means the wind will help hold the fence against the posts.  It also allows you to use a lighter duty strap to hold on the fence.

I use a U shaped steel post that is at least 7 feet tall and plastic zip ties to hold the fence to the post.  If you place a piece of 1×2 or rebar on the up wind side of the fence the zip tie will press the fence into a U shaped posts and strengthen the bond between post and fence.  You may have to inspect your fence periodically during the winter to make sure the zip ties are still holding.

As I said, putting up a snow fence of any type is an art.  I have seen some really nice snow fences made out of split rails also.  The type of snow fence you need is dependent on so many factors.  You can make them permanent with trees, semi-permanent with heavy materials or temporary with lighter weight materials.  Some aspects are the same, and others different.  Either way, if the winds are blowing snow into the wrong place, a properly placed snow fences can keep at least some of the snow out of your way.

Michael

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2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

I hope your snow fence does the job for you this winter and I hope you have an enjoyable winter as well! Your post was very interesting and I enjoyed reading it!

Comment by thomasgable

Thanks for this tutorial on snow fences. Although I grew up on the southwestern Minnesota prairie, I cannot recall my Dad placing a snow fence anywhere on the farm. I’ve often wondered about their precise placement.

Comment by Minnesota Prairie Roots




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