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WVU Extension Service expert offers advice, tips for landowners dealing with ice storm aftermath

Trees covered in snow and ice

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What’s the News? 

Snow and ice storms provide blissful and serene views of the rolling hills deep in the mountains of West Virginia. But winter aesthetics also can mean disruption of everyday life. 

Earlier this week, Old Man Winter packed a dual punch of ice and snow that blanketed a large part of the U.S., including southwestern West Virginia. In addition to causing power outages and dangerous roads, ice storms also present a number of hazards for landowners, including severe damage to forests and the value of timber.

Heavier snow falls and ice on power lines can cause power outages. Folks must act quickly and find the best ways to preserve their food and reserve their resources. 

With safety remaining a top priority, West Virginia University Extension Service’s experts have some advice on ways to help West Virginians survive winter storms and assess damage, including seeking resources to develop a plan.  

Food safety 

“With any type of power outage in any season, keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. A refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours if the door is kept closed. A full freezer will hold its temperature for about 48 hours.”

“Don’t use the outdoors as a substitute freezer or refrigerator. Even in the winter, outdoor temperatures are not consistent. There is a risk that the food can enter the “danger zone” (40-140 degrees Fahrenheit). It can also be exposed to animals and unsanitary conditions. However, use your refrigerator as an “ice box” if you use ice to keep it cool instead of electricity.”

“Once the power returns, check the temperature inside the refrigerator and freezer, and then check each food item individually. If any perishable food (meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, or leftovers) has been above 40 degrees for more than two hours, get rid of it. Evaluate the food that you have left, and discard anything that is possibly unsafe.”

“If there is food in your freezer that is partially or completely thawed, it can be safely re-frozen if it still contains ice crystals or is 40 degrees or below. Throw out any food that has an unusual odor, color, or texture or feels warm to the touch. Never taste a food to decide if it is safe.”

“This is an excellent time to invest in thermometers for your refrigerator and freezers and an infrared thermometer for food. Having thermometers in your appliances will give you an accurate idea about the temperature inside. The infrared thermometer will help you gauge the temperature of the actual food.” -- Gina Taylor, associate professor and Jackson County agent, WVU Extension Service  

Generator Safety 

“To continue electrical power during an outage, there are two choices: a professionally installed standby generator or a portable gasoline-powered generator. Regardless of the generator option you choose, it is essential that you take precautions for your safety and for the safety of the utility workers restoring the power.”

“Portable generators are useful when temporary or remote power is needed. Electric appliances, such as lights, refrigerators and freezers, can be directly plugged into portable generators. Generators that are directly connected need to be installed by a licensed electrician.”

Before starting your generator, carefully read, understand and follow the manufacturer’s instructions. All electrical connections must comply with the most recent National Electric Code. Do not overload the generator with too many appliances.”

“One of the biggest dangers of generators is carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, toxic gas. Many people have died from carbon monoxide poisoning because their generator was not adequately ventilated. Never use a generator indoors or in enclosed spaces, such as garages, crawl spaces and basements. Do not use a generator outdoors if it is placed near doors, windows and vents that could allow carbon monoxide to enter and build up in occupied spaces.” -- Tom Stockdale, associate professor and electrical safety specialist, WVU Extension Service 

Snow shoveling safety 

“Snow shoveling is a vigorous activity that involves a high level of physical exertion that can often lead to physical injuries or heart attacks. The cold temperatures experienced while shoveling snow causes constriction of the blood vessels and can also cause the blood to be thicker and more prone to clotting.”

“The level of physical activity and environmental conditions experienced during snow shoveling causes the heart to pump faster and harder. Based on this information, it’s not a surprise that there is a strong link between snow shoveling and fatal heart attacks.”

“It's also important to know the signs of a heart attack, including excessive fatigue, shortness of breath, chest discomfort and nausea. Signs of a heart attack can often be mistaken for fatigue as a result of the shoveling, so pay close attention to your physical symptoms.” -- Brandon Takacs, associate professor, WVU Extension Service   

Addressing ice damage to woodlands

“Ice storms always seem to catch us off guard. We have had a number of them over the past couple of decades. The most important thing for a woodland owner to think about in an event like this, where there is ice, broken trees, toppled trees, is to remain calm. It’s important that you realize that a woodland that was familiar prior to the ice storm may be full of extreme hazards after the ice storm.”

“Some of the hazards are short term that can be corrected, like spring poles. Spring poles are small, little saplings or pole-sized trees that have been bent over underneath of a fallen, larger tree. Those bent poles contain an enormous amount of energy, that if you try to cut it, it will release rapidly and could severely injure you.”

“Spring poles are the short-term hazards, but the long-term hazards are these branches that break off and remain hanging up in the trees. This is why foresters wear hardhats in the woods because there is always some sort of overhead hazard and when you have an ice storm, the number of overhead hazards increases significantly.”

Timber sales and value

“The value of timber after an ice storm is highly variable. Some of the trees will be fine, some will have broken branches, but the stem quality is not affected. Some of these will recover, sprout new branches and grow again. The more severely damaged trees are the ones you really need to be careful of and probably are not going to be recovering too much value.

“Some of the fallen trees will retain their wood quality for quite a while. So, there is no rush to get out and try to sell this timber right now. In fact, selling timber after an ice storm is not a wise idea. Unfortunately, landowners do that because they want to recover some value, so often times everyone is trying to sell at once and prices aren’t that great.”

After the storm

AUDIO FILE: “As the ice storm ends…”

“As the ice storm kind of ends and things settle down, it’s important to contact a professional forester. First, contact your county forester via the West Virginia Division of Forestry. They are highly skilled professionals and can help you scope out opportunities for your woodland after an ice storm.”

“They also can help sell timber, as can other types of foresters, including private consulting and procurement foresters who work for mills. Each of these professionals can help you market your timber, if a landowner chooses that route.” -- David McGill, forestry resources specialist, WVU Extension Service

Additional information, including ideas for “gifts of an experience,” can be found on the WVU Extension Service website, as well as other useful information to help you navigate the holiday season.   

West Virginia University experts can provide commentary, insights and opinions on various news topics. Search for an expert by name, title, area of expertise or college/school/department in the  Experts Database  at  WVU Today 



CONTACT: Tara Curtis
WVU Extension Service


Haley Moore, Communications Specialist
WVU Extension Service