Thursday, January 9, 2014

Snow. Turf's Great Blanket Offers Protection From Polar Vortex

The recent frigid temperatures and bone-chilling winds have made the words "polar vortex" as common place as "apple pie" throughout almost the entire United States. While temperatures below -25 degrees F and wind chills more than twice as cold can wreak havoc on cars and prove deadly for humans, they also can be extremely damaging for turfgrass.  The cells within certain varieties of golf course turf may even rupture due to freezing when temperatures fall to such dangerous lows.  Fortunately, the vast majority of turf at NSCC has been insulated with a thick blanket of snow since early December.  Even though monitoring turf conditions below the snow cover is not possible, our in-ground moisture meters give us an inclination of what is happening to the turf.  Not only do our moisture meters measure moisture levels, they also measure soil temperatures.  The graph below depicts soil temperatures since January 1.  Each line on the graph represents one individual green:

  • The top yellow line is the 7 White green
  • The second orange line is practice green
  • The third yellow line is 2 White green
  • The bottom brown line is 1 White green.
As you can see, the top three lines represent the three greens with the heaviest snow cover.  This snow cover acts as a blanket, offering the turf sufficient insulation.  Notice that there is only a minor drop in soil temperatures over the period of extreme cold that we have just encountered.

The bottom line represents 1 White green.  While covered in snow, the elevated and open nature of the green allows for more wind and blowing snow minimizing the extend of insulation.  Because of this reduced level of insulation, the soil temperatures rise and fall more frequently.  Even taking these temperature fluctuations into account, the turf on 1 White green is still very healthy as there has been sufficient insulation to prevent any severe damage at this point.

Over the course of the winter, members often ask how the course is doing.  I feel strongly that a heavy snow cover is the turf's best insulator and protector.  The use of soil technology provides a graphic which explains why this is true.

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