Current issue: 54(2)
Within the European Community snow damage affects an estimated 4 million m3 of timber every year, causing significant economic losses to forest owners. In Northern Europe, for example, the occurrence of snow damage has increased over the last few decades mainly due to the increase in total growing stock. The most common form of damage is stem breakage, but trees can also be bent or uprooted. Trees suffering snow damage are also more prone to consequential damage through insect or fungal attacks.
Snow accumulation on trees is strongly dependent upon weather and climatological conditions. Temperature influences the moisture content of snow and therefore the degree to which it can accumulate on branches. Wind can cause snow to be shed, but can also lead to large accumulations of wet snow, rime or freezing rain. Wet snow is most likely in late autumn or early spring. Geographic location and topography influence the occurrence of damaging forms of snow, and coastal locations and moderate to high elevations experience large accumulations. Slope plays a less important role and the evidence on the role of aspect is contradictory. The occurrence of damaging events can vary from every winter to once every 10 years or so depending upon regional climatology. In the future, assuming global warming in northern latitudes, the risk of snow damage could increase, because the relative occurrence of snowfall near temperatures of zero could increase.
The severity of snow damage is related to tree characteristics. Stem taper and crown characteristics are the most important factors controlling the stability of trees. Slightly tapering stems, asymmetric crowns, and rigid horizontal branching are all associated with high risk. However, the evidence on species differences is less clear due to the interaction with location. Management of forests can alter risk through choice of regeneration, tending, thinning and rotation. However, quantification and comparison of the absolute effect of these measures is not yet possible. An integrated risk model is required to allow the various locational and silvicultural factors to be assessed. Plans are presented to construct such a model, and gaps in knowledge are highlighted.