Snow fences are a great way to grab valuable moisture from the wind. Many dry places get the bulk of their precipitation as snow in the winter. Snow is not distributed evenly over the landscape. The leaward side of hills receive more snow than the windward side gets. On open plains, much more snow accumulates in wooded gullies, in river valleys and in shelter belts. These structures collect snow and they block winds that would blow the snow away again.
How to work hugelkultur into this.
Long mounds laid perpendicular to the prevailing winter winds, could be used to gather snow within the little valleys between parallel mounds. If the ends are sealed with soil, all snow melt would percolate into the soil and no runoff could occur. I imagine elongated ovals where the long sides face the wind. The inner trench could be completely filled. Drifting snow naturally finds a level.
I imagine that the bulk of the wood in this system should be buried in the valleys. So it's pit hugelkultur. The mounds are summer windbreaks and winter water traps. The valley bottoms will receive much more water than would naturally be deposited in that spot, wind would be blocked and the wood core stores the water. Plants that require less moisture could be grown on the upper slopes. Bushes, trees and any plant that leaves a wind blocking stalk after harvest, would trap snow. A shelter belt to the leaward side of the beds would help to make snow precipitate. I could see planting Jerusalem artichokes at the base of each mound on the windward side. Spring runoff will favor this area and the dead stalks will work as a snow fence, to slow the wind just before the valley.
Thanks for starting this topic. I have been thinking lately about ways to maximize snow pack and minimize sublimation losses. Snow fences are a good way to concentrate snow into drifts and provide shading from winter sun. Does anyone have any practical observations of this?
I have noticed that even in an inversion, shaded areas will collect heavy frost.
Last night and today we had another windy windy snowstorm. Watching the drifts is showing me a lot of patterns that are usually invisible and giving me ideas on how to capture snow. I am not in the desert though! I'm in Rhode Island in New England.
When I lived in Ontario, I observed many places where snow accumulated. My grandmother's farm had a rocky area that was allowed to go wild with goldenrod, milkweed and many small trees and bushes. This area was immediately beside an open field. We used to go there in the winter to play in the snow. It was deep enough that we were able to create snow forts by burrowing rather than piling the snow up. The open field did not have enough snow for this and the biting wind made it a much colder place. Dips and hollows made it a difficult spot for the heavier adults to navigate, since they were all filled up with snow and the landscape appeared rather level. The barnyard often had several piles of manure around it. Snow drifted into all of the low spots to make one huge drift.
We moved to another farm a short distance away. Two ponds were dug. The outflow for the one by the house ran through a steep sided gully. During windy periods in the winter, this gully would fill completely. There could be 3 feet of snow on level ground, but at the deepest part of the gully, it was about 10 ft. deep. It was a dangerous spot during spring melt. The pond water flowed under this cap and at some point each spring the roof would collapse. --- The second pond was in a little box valley, near the river. It had been planned as a skating pond but proved unsuitable since it was a perfect snow trap. Cedar trees slowed the wind on the only exposed end. There was high ground on the other three sides. We shoveled and shoveled. It was pointless, so we returned to using the smaller wind swept pond near the house. It had that nice deep gully at the end.
We moved to the city of ST. Catharines on the South shore of Lake Ontario which gets far less snow. There I observed a row of town houses that all had sunken courtyards surrounded by hedging and other growth. Each one had a big patio door. During blustery conditions where the snow was blown around, these courtyards would accumulate two feet of snow when the flat spaces got six inches. Not the best spot for a patio door.
My point, and I do have one. When you're trying to capture snow, flat and smooth bad --- humpy, bumpy with lots of rough debris good.
strangely, i get most of my snow piling up on the WINDWARD side of my beds, not certain why, but in the winter this also happens to be the north side, protecting said snow from evaporating as quickly due to southward sun exposure it may get on the leeward side of the beds... i have some pics of the snow ive caught this last winter in the link to my project thread:)
i'd agree with Dale that humpy, bumpy land is the best way to go about snow retention, and if its bumpy enough it will also help melting snow to soak in rather than run off, in places where there is little annual precipitation but plenty of wind to blow snow around, i think its absolutely crucial to capture all that water and OM being blown around by the winter winds, also MILES gave me a great idea of using deep trenches that fill with snow in the winter, covering them with deep mulch to insulate the snow so that it stays frozen into the drier parts of the year before melting, giving a longer period of snowmelt moisture, have yet to excerise this idea, but cant wait to give it a go
Here are some shots of snowfence in Wyoming. Taken in early April.
As you can see, the area around the snow fences has very little snow. It usually just blows around until it sublimates, so the soil gets very little moisture.
With snow fences there are large piles of snow that slowly melts into the soil.
later in the spring you usually see that area is bit greener than the rest of the plains as well, on some snow fences ive seen the grass grow much taller as well
whoever puts them in is at least smart enough to notice that a little bit because ive also seen a few where they have planted trees where the drift accumulates, as these trees grow bigger that drift will extend further downwind as well, where if there are 3 rows of pine saplings after the snow fence the drift is usually at least twice as wide
and sometimes them snowfences get some HUGE drifts, ive seen some that had an easy 12-15ft of snow behind them... a lot of extra water for that spot