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Proper snow fence installation can help reduce drifting during winter storms

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Recent winter storms have dropped heaps of snow across Wyoming and nearby areas, with many places receiving over a foot. On ranching and farming operations, it seems moving snow can be a never-ending chore, but Iowa State University (ISU) Extension reminds producers strategically placed snow fence can help with drifting and save a lot of time and energy.

Snow fence


“The purpose of snow fence isn’t to stop snow from blowing. Instead, it actually allows snow to blow through, but the wind is slowed down enough it drops the snow on the other side of the fence,” reads an article published in Successful Farming, written by Successful Farming staff. 

In this article, ISU Ag Extension Engineering Specialist Kristina Tebockhorst notes the best snow fence is half solid and half open, and the best materials are heavy-duty, prefabricated plastic or wood slat or lath fence. 

In a 2015 ISU Extension Small Farm Sustainability article, Iowa State University Extension Agricultural Engineering Field Specialist Greg Brenneman says, “Research shows the best snow fences are 50 percent porous snow fence – it lets the blizzard through, but it still slows the wind.” 

Tebockhorst and Brenneman agree the distance between where a snow fence is installed and the area a person is trying to keep from drifting over is key.

Brenneman notes research conducted in Wyoming has found the majority of snow is deposited on the ground within a distance of about 20 times the height of the snow fence. In severe winters, drift lengths can reach up to 30 times the height of the fence.

“If the fence is placed too close, the drifts may be worse than if there was no fence at all,” states Tebockhorst. 

Tebockhorst suggests installing snow fence a distance of anywhere between 20 to 35 times the height of the fence from the area a person is protecting from drifting. 

“If the fence is four-feet tall, and the wind blows toward the road from the north, the fence should be placed 80 to 140 feet north of the road,” she notes. 

Installing snow fence

Both ISU experts offer a few helpful tips for proper snow fence installation.

First, the pair recommends placing fences perpendicular to the prevailing wind direction. For example, if the wind typically comes from the north, the fence should run east and west.

Additionally, they encourage individuals to build the fence as long as possible, well beyond the length of the zone needing protection and to leave a gap of six inches between the bottom of the fence and the ground to keep the fence from getting buried.

“Set steel posts on eight-foot centers. Support end posts by driving another steel post into the ground at an angle and wiring the end post and brace post together,” Tebockhorst and Brenneman state. “If using plastic fencing, sandwich the material between two wood laths and wire them tightly to steel posts at the top, middle and bottom of the fence.”

Permanent snow fence

Tebockhorst and Brenneman explain there are a few long-term solutions to drifting snow. 

According to Brenneman, building up roads and driveways so snow blows across instead of drifting is one option.

“By elevating driveways above the surrounding terrain, wind will sweep snow off of the roadway,” he says. “Usually, the roadway should be one to two feet higher than the nearby landscape to make this effective.” 

Additionally, the two experts explain living snow fences such as trees, shrubs and vegetation can trap a lot of snow and provide a permanent snow fence. 

Brenneman notes these need to be planted well away from areas they are meant to protect, and says a good rule of thumb is to allow 100 to 150 feet to trap snow between the living snow fence and the area needing protected. 

“Keep grass and weeds alongside roadways mowed down in the fall,” he continues. “This vegetation can act as a mini snow fence, creating drifting right on the roadway. Leaving cornstalk stubble undisturbed will trap a great deal of snow out in the field and minimize the mount of snow that can drift on the roadway. Anywhere there is an obstruction, snow will drift. By strategically placing or removing these barriers, we can minimize problems from drifting snow.” 

Tebockhorst notes some states have compensation programs for landowners who leave eight to16 rows of corn in a field parallel to the road.

“They also have a U.S. Department of Agriculture Conservation Reserve Program living snow fence program in many states. Local Natural Resources Conservation Service offices can help individuals if they live in an area where a living snow fence would be useful,” she says.

Hannah Bugas is the managing editor for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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