Winter trees in a flood

fungus birch

Steady rain turned into a downpour early Sunday evening and didn’t let up for another fifteen hours. And just like that, we had a flood. In the same way that you get flash floods after hard rains in the dry West, here in the winter when the ground is frozen hard and the trees are leafless and dormant, there’s little to keep the water from running into the nearest ravine. We lost hundreds of dollars worth of quarry stone from the Plummer’s Hollow Road in just a few hours.

It would take a solid week of hard rain to get this kind of flood on a forested landscape in the summer. If these rare winter floods serve any purpose, it may be to remind us what would happen — what has happened here in the past — in the absence of forests: every hard rain turns into a flood.

Little Juniata in flood

At the bottom of the hollow, the Little Juniata River wasn’t so little anymore. It roared just a couple feet below the deck of our access bridge, which shook as floating logs and tires thudded against the pier. The riverbanks became instant swamps.

trees in ice 1

Nor was the flooding restricted to low places; the ephemeral ponds at the very top of the Plummer’s Hollow watershed grew and merged briefly into one big pond. Then the temperature dropped and everything froze.

trees in ice 3

By the time I got up there to take pictures yesterday afternoon, the water level had fallen by half a foot, leaving a sagging ice ceiling with little underneath it and nothing but scattered tree trunks to hold it up — an ephemeral architecture, like some boom town gone bust.

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Don’t forget to submit tree-related blog posts to the Festival of the Trees blog carnival. The deadline for the next edition, at the UK-based treeblog, is January 30 — see the call for submissions for details on how to submit.

Also, be sure not to miss the interview with Pablo, Jade and me at the Nature Blog Network. We talk all about the Festival of the Trees: how it got started, why we do it, how it’s not really some kind of freaky tree cult, and why you should join us.

16 Comments


  1. We got those flooding rains here in western NY turning our yard into an extension of the pond. Yuck..but I should have gone back into the woods because I know they would have had ice like you did. I have a question. I noticed in the bare woods that one tree really sticks out as it has this greenish-yellow stuff all up the bark..I think only on one side. It isn’t moss? What is it as I am really curious now..if you know.. Michelle

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    1. Depends. Tree bark can be a very rich ecosystem, and rain brings out the colors in moss, in lichen, in fungi (as in the first photo above) and in various types of algae and monera. Lichen is the safest bet, though. Some forest ecologists in the UK and in New England have worked out indices of arboreal lichen diversity to help calculate the age of a forest: the more lichen species are present, the older the forest.

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  2. Wow, sounds like the rainforest type of rains! Glad you survived and got some great photos – the trees sitting in icy water have an eerie other worldly look, like something out of ancient folk tales.

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    1. Don’t they, though? I have taken many, many photos of those tiny little ponds, but these are among my favorites. And snapped in great haste while rice was cooking back at the house a half-mile away.

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    1. Thanks. It was pretty major, I guess — a number of roads were closed in the area, which I’m sure means that houses in floodplains sustained a lot of water damage.

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  3. I love those rings (where I assume the ice is thicker?) around the trunks of the trees. Needless to say we don’t see anything like that down here in Texas so it’s nice to see these winter images.

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    1. Yeah, the rings were cool. Glad you dug the pictures.

      I hear the panhandle has been getting some hellacious winter weather!

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  4. How freakin’ aquatic every living thing in a flood plain must be else it loose its life in a flood. There must be so many that are of the soil that are also ready to “breath” water.

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    1. I had that thought too, Bill — or something pretty similar. The trees all look fine now, but the riverbank sure is scoured.

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  5. I like the architecture. Its rebar is a bit more flexible than its superstructure, a good quality for all weathers.

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    1. “Rebar” is such a cool word. I must use it more often!

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  6. The photo of the tree trunk covered in fungi is a knockout. Then I moved down your post & thought “Is that ice?” Yes it was. Must have been a mix of fear & excitement for you. This looks to be wild territory. Great post. I’ve come from Festival of the Trees & will be back again. There is much to read.

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    1. Hi Jacqueline – glad you liked the photos. It was exciting, all right! The more recent storms have missed us, though, and I’m worried that the rest of the winter might be pretty dull.

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