Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

ECOVIEWS: Ice Storms Provide Environmental Perspectives

Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

ECOVIEWS: Ice Storms Provide Environmental Perspectives

Article excerpt

We all know that adversity should be viewed as opportunity. Thus the recent ice storm that eliminated almost all electrical power over an extensive region in the Southeast and negatively affected thousands of families should surely have some upsides. I decided to try and find them.

Actually, "storm" is an overstatement because an ice storm can be as gentle as a light, misty rain. The catch is that while nearly frozen water falls from the sky, the temperature hovers at or slightly below freezing. The steady precipitation covers limbs, leaves and power lines, and then freezes, leaving a coating like icing on a cake. The buildup is gradual, but the effects can be devastating for anyone dependent on electricity. Large tree limbs hanging over decks, houses or swimming pools can lead to costly damage. Travel on icy roads strewn with fallen trees can be hazardous.

Nonetheless, the aftermath of an ice rain can provide absolutely stunning spectacles with an awesome sound track, one of Mother Nature's no-charge entertainment programs. I stood on the porch absolutely enthralled by the silver glaze on the vegetation and listening to the gunfire popping of trees as limbs and foot- diameter trunks broke like kindling. I was also terrified that one might come crashing down where I stood, which led to mixed feelings as wonder, awe, excitement and apprehension vied with each other. Northerners have impressive blizzards, but a southern ice storm is not to be trifled with. Among the positives: plenty of firewood is now on the ground for the taking.

From an ecological perspective, ice storms can be instructive regarding how plants can be well adapted for one type of weather but be at the mercy of the elements for another. Evergreen species vary greatly in the Southeast. Longleaf and loblolly pines are better adapted to cold conditions than the more southerly slash pines. Longleaf or loblolly may forfeit a few limbs, whereas many slash pines are unlikely to make it through a first-class ice storm. Laden with a sheet of ice, their brittle limbs break, and with their more shallow root systems, even a slight wind can make the entire tree topple over. …

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