Artificial ice storms used to predict severe weather

Nestled within New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest sits the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest, where researchers are using artificial ice storms to examine the effects of severe weather.

The project, led by the USDA Forest Service and funded by the National Science Foundation, is aimed at finding out how these potent storms impact the forest and wildlife. The hope is that the research will shed insights that allow scientists to correctly model the timing and location of future storms.

“People are very concerned about ice storms because they have a huge impact, but we know almost nothing about them,’ said Charles Driscoll, professor of Environmental Systems Engineering at Syracuse University. “This is a way we can try to investigate this under a controlled situation, where we can look at different levels of icing and then see what the variable response is to and across an ecosystem.”

Ice storms can leave millions of people without power and cost several billions in economic damage. So the team of researchers has gotten proactive. Instead of waiting for an ice storm to conduct their research, they created one. 

The team created artificial ice storms using fire hoses mounted onto a pair of SUVS that drew water from a brook and sprayed mist into the air. The team then used bright orange buckets to track how much water was used and gray baskets to catch falling debris.

‘The cool thing is that trees are big, strong, long-lived organisms that have to endure all kinds of stresses,” said Paul Schaberg of the U.S. Forest Service. “They can’t run away, they may be alive for hundreds and hundreds of years, so if something bad comes, they should be able to rebound. So we want to understand that ability of trees to rebound from things, even some things that look somewhat devastating.”

By Rory Arnold, Earth.com Staff Writer