Understanding Snow Fences: Your Essential Guide to Safety and Efficiency in Winter

Ever wondered what those structures standing tall in the wintry landscapes are? They’re called snow fences, and they’re more than just roadside decor. Snow fences play a crucial role in managing snowfall, especially in areas prone to heavy snow.

You might think they’re designed to keep snow out, but that’s not quite the case. In fact, their job is to trap drifting snow, preventing it from causing havoc on roads and properties. Intrigued? Let’s delve deeper into what a snow fence is, and why it’s a winter essential in many regions.

Key Takeaways

  • Snow fences are crucial structures that manage snowfall in areas that receive heavy snow, mainly by controlling the drift of snow and preventing it from blocking roads and damaging properties.
  • These fences work by creating turbulence in the wind, causing it to drop snow it’s carrying; the result is a clear area on the windward side where human activities take place. The snow drift forms on the leeward side.
  • Snow fences aid in winter safety and are not intended to keep snow out of certain areas. Their primary aim is to reduce snow-related accidents, cost and need for snow removal, therefore protecting properties from snow damage.
  • Correct positioning is key to a snow fence’s functionality; they are usually placed at a distance about 35 times the height of the fence from the area to keep clear. The drift forms at about seven times the fence height.
  • There are different types of snow fences: temporary ones (plastic/metal), living ones (trees, shrubs, or grasses), and permanent ones (wood, metal, heavy-duty plastic). The choice depends upon specific requirements of snow management.
  • The benefits of using snow fences are extensive; improving safety, reducing maintenance costs, positively impacting the environment (in the case of living snow fences), adding visual appeal to the winter landscape, and serving practical use for winter activities.

Snow fences play a crucial role in enhancing winter safety and efficiency by controlling snow drifts on roads and properties. Maine.gov’s Snow Fence Guide describes the basic requirements for an efficient snow fence, including standard designs and criteria for custom designs. Mend The Fences highlights the benefits and strategic placement of snow fences for winter weather control, emphasizing their vital role in areas prone to heavy snowfall. Additionally, the Federal Highway Administration’s video on Effective Snow Fences offers a visual explanation of how snow fences work and their importance in maintaining clear and safe roads during winter.

What is a Snow Fence?

On the surface, the concept of a snow fence may seem as simple as its name suggests: a fence that deals with snow. But, there’s more to it than just that. To really appreciate a snow fence’s usefulness, it’s crucial to understand its purpose and how it works.

Contrary to what you might believe, the goal of a snow fence isn’t to keep snow out of certain areas. Rather, it’s there to help manage drifting snow, allowing for safer and more efficient winter navigation. So, you might ask, how exactly does a snow fence do this?

A snow fence functions by causing turbulence in wind flows, forcing the wind to drop the snow it’s carrying. Positioned appropriately, these fences create a snow drift downstream, or on the leeward side, of the fence itself. The outcome is a clear area on the windward side, typically where traffic flows, pedestrians walk, or other human activities take place.

The role of a snow fence may not seem significant until you come across a blizzard. But, if you’ve ever driven on a clear road just after a heavy snowfall, you’ve likely benefited from it. These fences are a vital winter tool in many climate-challenged regions. They prevent snow-related accidents on roads, reduce the cost and need for snow removal, and protect properties from damaging drifts.

Knowing and understanding this might make you appreciate these simple yet powerful structures a little more. So, the next time you see one standing tall in the chilly winter wind, remember how these snow fences play an important part in our lives during the winter season.

The Purpose of Snow Fences

Now that you’ve grasped the fundamental concept of snow fences, let’s delve into their main purpose. Contrary to popular belief, they’re not erected to keep snow off your property. Instead, they’re cleverly designed to control snow drift, which in turn enhances winter safety.

Snow fences create turbulence in wind flow, compelling the snow to be deposited in a predictable area. This typically occurs on the windward side of the fence, rather than on the road that lies beyond it. By accumulating snow in targeted areas, these fences essentially clear the path for safer winter navigation.

Remember those chilling winter mornings when you had to face an arduous task of shoveling snow off your driveway? Snow fences effectively reduce such instances too. Not only do they slash the time and effort dedicated to snow removal, but they also help in minimizing related expenses. Snow removal isn’t just labor-intensive; it can also get pricey, particularly in regions heavily burdened by winter weather.

On top of topping you off with practical benefits, snow fences also step up in safeguarding your property. They act as a shield against snow-related damages, safeguarding your buildings, crops, and landscapes. Plants and delicate structures tend to bear the force of harsh winds and heavy snow loads. Snow fences act as a buffer zone, blocking the wind and thus reducing the snow load on your property.

How Snow Fences Work

After understanding the critical role of snow fences in improving winter safety, it’s essential to grasp how these barriers perform their functions. The key to snow fence efficacy isn’t about stopping snow in its tracks; it’s more about controlling snow movement and its ultimate disposition.

Snow fences act as windbreaks, slowing down the wind as it passes through. As the wind slows, it can’t carry as much snow, causing it to drop the snow on the opposite side of the fence. This action forms a snow drift on the downwind side of the fence rather than the area you want to protect.

It’s important to place your snow fence correctly to harness its full potential. The optimal positioning involves setting the fence at a distance of approximately 35 times the height of the fence from the area you’d like to keep clear. For instance, a four-foot fence needs to be about 140 feet from the protected area. According to studies, snow drifts will begin to form downwind from the fence at about seven times the fence height. Therefore, positioning the fence correctly ensures that the formed drift does not reach your protected space.

Let’s look at these critical dimensions in a much simpler way:

Fence height (ft)Minimum distance for fence position (ft)

Knowing this data informs your decision on where to strategically position the snow fence and makes the concept of these fences even more relevant and efficient. It’s an interesting piece of knowledge that has you appreciate how weather elements can be harnessed to control their effects, and not just seen as unpredictable variables.

In heavily snow-ridden areas, using snow fences – combined with appropriate positioning based on their height – is an approach widely used by authorities and property owners. It not just aids in reducing the cost and effort of snow removal, but also maintains the integrity of properties and landscapes during harsh winters.

Types of Snow Fences

Diversifying your understanding of snow fences, let’s jump into exploring the different types available. Ranging from temporary to permanent solutions, the style you choose would heavily depend on your specific requirements.

Temporary Snow Fences: Often constructed from plastic or lightweight metal, temporary snow fences are popular for their ease of installation and removal. They’re typically bright orange in color, enhancing their visibility in heavy snowfall. You’d find these fences useful in varying snow conditions or if you need portability. They come in handy for temporary work sites or events held in snowy regions.

Living Snow Fences: A sustainable and natural approach to capturing snow. Living snow fences involve using trees, shrubs, or grassy plants to create windbreaks. Besides coping with snow drifts, they offer additional benefits like habitat creation and improved roadside aesthetics. They’re a great choice if you’re aiming for a long-term, environmentally friendly solution.

Permanent Snow Fences: These are usually made of wood, metal, or heavy-duty plastic. As the name suggests, they’re installed with the intention of being a long-standing, fixed installation. These fences provide consistency in managing snow drifts over numerous seasons. They’re recommended for areas with consistent snowfalls and specific spots needing year-round protection.

Here’s a quick comparison of these types of snow fences:

Type of Snow FenceMaterial UsedSuitability
Temporary Snow FencePlastic or Lightweight MetalAreas with varying snow conditions, Temporary work sites, Events
Living Snow FenceTrees, Shrubs, or GrassesLong-term solution, Environmently friendly areas
Permanent Snow FenceWood, Metal, Heavy-duty PlasticAreas with consistent snowfalls, Fixed installations

Bear in mind that selection of the right type of snow fence should be based on your unique situation – your geographical location, the amount of snowfall received, the specific property or area being protected, and your individual goals for snow management.

Benefits of Using Snow Fences

When you’re dealing with winter conditions, snow fences offer several distinct advantages. Clearly, they’re not just functional but also essential for specific locations and settings.

Firstly, safety is significantly enhanced by the strategic placement of snow fences. These barriers effectively decrease the risk of snow drifts on roads, driveways, and other areas where accumulation can hinder movement and visibility. By controlling where the snow piles up, you’re ensuring a safer environment for traffic and pedestrians alike.

The use of snow fences also lessens the strain on maintenance resources. With fewer snowdrifts on key paths and areas, there’s less dependency on snow removal equipment and crews. That means reduced costs for both fuel and labor — important savings that can impact your overall winter budget.

For those concerned about environmental impact, choosing a living snow fence could be a valuable choice. These organic barriers aren’t just effective windbreaks but also contribute positively to your local ecosystem. Created from trees, shrubs, or grasses, living snow fences can provide habitats for local wildlife and improve soil health, providing long-term sustainability.

And let’s not forget about the visual appeal! Whether you opt for a rustic wooden design or a vibrant plastic variant, snow fences can certainly add an aesthetic element to your winter landscape.

They also serve a practical purpose for winter activities. You can use temporary snow fences for marking out racecourses, sledding hills, or outdoor venues. They’re straightforward to install and remove, which makes them perfect for temporary settings or events.

Indeed, the benefits of using snow fences are extensive and multifaceted. From enhancing safety to reducing maintenance costs and ecological impact, these barriers are more than just a functional winter tool. Choosing the right kind of snow fence based on your location, snowfall levels, protected area, and specific requirements can enhance these benefits even further.


So, you’ve seen how snow fences can be a game-changer in winter conditions. They’re not just about safety, but they also help cut down on maintenance costs. Plus, if you’re eco-conscious, a living snow fence is an excellent choice that benefits both wildlife and soil health. And let’s not forget the aesthetic appeal they add to your winter landscape. Whether you’re marking a racecourse or a sledding hill, they’re pretty handy. Remember, choosing the right type of snow fence based on your location, snowfall, and specific needs can maximize these benefits. So next time winter rolls around, you’ll know exactly how to keep those snow drifts in check.

What are the benefits of using snow fences?

Snow fences are invaluable in winter conditions, improving safety by decreasing snow drifts on roads and paths. They also reduce maintenance costs by lessening the need for extensive snow removal efforts.

Are snow fences environmentally friendly?

Yes, especially living snow fences. These not only create a barrier against drifting snow but also provide habitats for wildlife, contributing positively towards the environment. They also promote healthier soils.

Can snow fences enhance visual appeal?

Yes, snow fences can improve winter landscape aesthetics, depending on the type chosen. Some are used for distinctive purposes like marking racecourses or designating sledding hills.

How do we choose the type of snow fence?

Your choice will depend on your location, snowfall levels, and specific needs. Different types of snow fences offer various advantages, so ensure to select one that will best fulfill your requirements and conditions.