Winter Rain

Shoveling water exit points on greens during 1/6 rain event
It is raining, again. Currently, it is 44 degrees and a steady rain is falling on frozen ground. Today's rain is the third rain event this winter. Our weather station has recorded 4.5 inches of rain since mid-December. While winter rains are not uncommon, the multiple rain events coupled with extremely cold temperatures in a short time period is uncommon. The result of this weather pattern is the accumulation of copious amounts of ice everywhere. Back roads, driveways, and sidewalks are pure ice. Walking through parking lots is treacherous. These uncommon winter rains and ensuing ice build are dreadful for many outdoor activities. The skiing on maintained trails is marginal. The snow-making and grooming teams are in high gear trying to keep the slopes in good condition. Skiing back country is simply horrible and non-existent. The wildlife even struggles with this weather. The raptors i.e., owls, hawks, and eagles, struggle mightily with these uncommon events as well. Raptor's feathers get wet and are unable to dry before the temperature plummet essentially causing a disability for flight. Additionally, when a crust forms over the snow, raptors struggle or are unable to break through the snow to get their food of voles and mice. There's just too much ice and not enough snow.
Block of ice on the same green 24 hours after 1/6 rain event

The survival of golf course turf when conditions like this occur is also a struggle. If I was asked to script the weather scenario that would be most destructive to golf course turf, I would have described the weather we had on December 22, January 6, or today. The scenarios include a significant rain event occurring when there is snow accumulation on frozen ground. The falling rain and subsequent water accumulation backs up in low areas. The snow slows the movement of water and the ground is unable to absorb the water. When the temperature drastically drops to below freezing a solid block of ice is formed. The weather that occurred on January 6th was the worst of the three storms. The rain started in the early morning and increased in intensity through the morning. Check out the video 1/6 Rain at Stowe Country Club in the village of Stowe. At noon the rain turned to snow and the temperatures plummeted to the single digits later that night. The result was that many areas of the course turned into skating rinks. A massive amount of 4-6 inch ice was formed throughout the course. The problem with ice on turf is that if the ice stays solid for more than 60-90 days the turf will begin to decline because of the reduction in oxygen and the accumulation of harmful gases. The key to turf survival under ice is reducing the total accumulative days of ice cover.

As a superintendent, I mitigate these adverse conditions in anyway possible. During these uncommon rain events, the maintenance team ensures the drains stay open to move the water. Snow or ice is removed if the drain has been blocked. Low drainage points on greens can be shoveled to make sure the water keeps moving off the green and is not backed up. In some cases however, this task can become overwhelming and fruitless. Unfortunately, the January 6th rain event was such the case.

The multiple rain events and subsequent cold temperatures during the early part of the winter season is of concern for the survival of many outdoor activities including golf course turf. The maintenance team will continue to monitor ice levels and cumulative days under ice. Hopefully the conditions for turf, as well as skiing, and raptor survival will improve. In the next posts I'll provide updates on subsequent actions relating to turf survival for the various weather Mother Nature provides.