Depending on where you live, a snow fence might be an everyday landscaping feature, or something bordering on the exotic. In wintry climates, snow fences are an effective means of snow control, and can even save lives.
Understanding the Snow Fence
Blowing snow is a winter hazard for drivers, blinding them and causing accidents. A snow fence is built tilted to slow down wind and snow. As the wind hits the fence, it slows down and snow drops through the slats. A snowdrift piles up against the fence, rather than continuing into the road. This design can protect highways, airports, railways, ski resorts and other places where blowing snow endangers life, commerce and the flow of daily activities.
The biggest trick when designing a snow fence is to make sure it’s up to the job. Engineers have to predict the amount of blowing snow to determine the fence’s necessary capacity. Taller snow fences work better than shorter ones. In places like Wyoming, you’ll see permanent snow fences. But, portable fences made of lightweight plastics can be set up in places calling for lighter duty.
Correct placement of snow fences is critical. If the fence is built too close to the road, snowdrifts can actually worsen. And when the snow melts, the runoff can crack the pavement.
Ron Tabler, Father of the Modern Snow Fence
The hero of any story about modern snow fences is the late Ron Tabler. His story is especially tied to I-80 in Wyoming, also known as the Snow Chi Minh Trail. This infamous highway was so dangerous that state politicians wanted to close it permanently.
Enter Tabler and his 25-year effort to perfect snow fences. His passion for snow fences led to studies of evaporation and particle physics. He built all kinds of models, trying out different heights, placements and porosities, and experimenting with the size of the bottom gap.
In 1985, he established Tabler & Associates, an engineering consulting firm. Their specialty? Mitigating blowing snow, sand, wind and dust. If you enjoy reading about fences as much as we do, we recommend his 389-page opus, Design Guidelines for the Control of Blowing and Drifting Snow.
Benefits of a Snow Fence
As we mentioned before, snow fences drastically reduce the cost of snow control. One 2005 study estimated the cost of snow removal from highways at about $3 per 2,200 pounds of snow. Contrast that with a four-foot-high fence catching 8,400 pounds of snow per foot if its length.
Snow fences also reduce the amount of ice on roads, and the need for salting and sanding. Most of all, they improve visibility for drivers, thus saving lives. Accidents on I-80 in blowing snow dropped by more than half after Wyoming erected snow fences.
Okay, now we’re getting teary-eyed. At Buzz, we just love a fence story with a happy ending. And we love happy customers. If you have any fencing needs in your life, give us a call.