Snow weighs heavy on southern tree limbs

States in the southeastern US are dealing with a significant snow storm Thursday.

Courtesy: Lisa Suhay
Bobbie Corletto of Norfolk, Virginia spends her morning trying to take the weight of the snow off of her favorite crepe myrtle trees.

The South will rise from winter storm Remus, but the landscape may look ragged this spring as prolonged cold and weighty snow have become a hazard to trees and those who pass under them.

“We’ve got hit,” says Ralph Jackson, owner of A Beautiful Tree by Jackson in Lacey’s Spring, Ala., which was smack in the center of Remus’s path. “Nine inches of snow and limbs coming down on your cedar, magnolia and pine trees left and right. People need to be careful when they finally can get out for a walk that nothing comes down on them.”

Mr. Jackson, who has been in business for 37 years says this is only the second time he has seen snow of this caliber. “Back in around 1989 or so, we got 10 inches and that right there was a mess too.”

“People must be thinking that we’re hopping with business, but we’re dead in the water with the state of emergency and all the roads shut down. We can’t get to the problems.”

Jackson said, "This isn’t is heavy snow that packs but you can’t make a snowman with it. My house has a metal roof and the snow is just sliding down in sheets so bad I can’t get the door open.”

Norfolk, Va., was hit with about 10 inches of very dense snow and wintry mix that turned to sleet by mid-day. The National Weather Service predicts winds building to 25 to 35 mph.

In Virginia, individual municipalities have been empowered by the governor to declare a state of emergency, according to Lori Crouch, spokesperson for the City of Norfolk. Norfolk has declared a state of emergency retroactive to last week’s snowfall.

“The trees are very heavy with snow right now,” Crouch said in an interview. “At the moment our main concern with the weight of this particular snow and the high winds is for roads and power lines. However, right now we are very lucky that there are no power outages here and only one report of a tree coming down on a cable line.”

 “I moved my car because I was afraid the carport would collapse from the weight of this snow and a tree branch fell on it instead,” says Patricia Rawls of Norfolk, Va.

In addition to being one of many impacted by Remus, she is also a go-to source of botanical knowledge for southern gardeners worried about how this unusual and ongoing cold weather will affect their gardens. Rawls is recently retired from 20 years on the Board of Directors for the Norfolk Botanical Gardens and the current chair of the Landscape Committee there.

“Bulbs in the ground are going to be perfectly happy,” she says. “Crepe Myrtle are deciduous so they don’t have leaves to hold the snow’s weight, but the firs and pine are catching all that weight.”

Rawls adds, “The real issue for the South is the substantial cold that has held on longer than usual creating more die-back in plants.”

According to Rawls, extreme cold and pronounced fluctuations in temperature can be damaging to all kinds of plants, particularly those zoned for warmer climates like those found in southern states such as North Carolina and Virginia which are currently being blighted by the unusual cold.

Asked if he expected trees in Alabama to experience a die-off from the cold, Jackson told the tale of what he experienced back in the storm of 1989.

“A customer had me come out to her place and look at the crepe myrtles and live oaks and asked me if they were all going to die from the damage and cold,” Jackson recalls. “I’m no real botanical scientist but I told her, ‘The good Lord always tells me he’s not going to give me more than I can handle. If all of these trees right here were to die it’d be more than I can handle. So I believe they’ll be O.K.’”

Jackson adds that the following spring, “Almost every one of those trees came back just fine. So I believe I’ll be making that same prediction again this time.”

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