PHOTO: Daniel Johnson
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January 7, 2020

According to the National Weather Service, there’s a “snowbelt region” in northern Wisconsin that receives significantly more annual snowfall than the rest of the state. I happen to live in that snowbelt. Most folks enjoy 40-50 inches of snowfall per year. Up in my neck of the woods, the average jumps to 100-125 inches per year.

Suffice it to say, ten feet of annual snowfall is a lot of snow.

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The key to handling all this is removing snow as soon as it falls. Don’t delay—even though it can be a nuisance to stop everything and dig/plow/snowblow, try to  remove snow from driveways, walkways and doorways as quickly as possible.

You might think, “It’s only eight inches of fresh snow, I can walk out to the barn.” Or maybe “my four-wheel-drive truck will handle this no problem.”

You’re probably right—with some effort (and maybe snowshoes), you can waddle your way through challenging conditions. And with good tires, your four-wheel drive truck can probably get through some pretty deep snow, too.

But by taking this approach, you risk creating a bigger nuisance that will haunt you for the rest of winter.


Tire Problems

The problem with driving through fresh snow is that it quickly compacts, packing into tight, frozen layers that are difficult to remove later on. Walk-behind snow blowers hit these smooth-coated snowpacks and try to climb over them rather than cut through them. Even the best snow shovels bounce off uselessly, requiring you to bring in digging bars and spades to make any digging progress.

The more you cross through uncleared fresh snow, the greater the problem will become. I’ve seen substantial mounds form just outside garage doors, when cars head out on wintry days and repeatedly compress the snow. These snowpacks are dense and can grow to surprising heights, potentially becoming a problem for vehicles with low ground clearance. You can try to chip them away with a digging shovel. Or maybe your tractor’s front-end loader can scrape them off the ground. But sometimes the only easy solution is to wait for spring to work its magic and melt the snowpacks.

Trouble Underfoot

Frozen walking paths can be just as problematic. While it’s inevitable you’ll compress the snow to some degree along frequently used paths, clearing fresh snow before anyone walks across it will help minimize the buildup. If you allow too much of a snowpack to form, it can become difficult to use a walk-behind snowblower. You’ll find its wheels constantly slipping off the snowpack, tilting the machine one way or the other until you can wrestle it back to the middle of the path.

It’s also possible to lose these packed-down paths during heavy snowstorms. How can you tell where it’s located when it’s buried under two feet of fresh snow?

It isn’t easy. Just ask my neighbor, who kindly helped us clear our driveway with his tractor and 7-foot snowblower attachment last winter. When the driveway was finished, he tried to clear one of our walking paths and unfortunately managed to straddle the hidden snowpack, bottoming out the tractor with its wheel spinning helplessly. It was a time-consuming job to get the tractor free again.

So my advice is simple—don’t delay when heavy snowfall strikes. Even if it means getting up early, keep snow from sticking to your driveway and other surfaces before people and machinery start compressing it.

In the long run, you’ll save yourself a lot of time, effort and aggravation.

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