February Ice Storm Part I: The Descent

The winter of 2020-21 had, until last week, been yet another incredibly mild one, so far even warmer in my garden than the previous year. The lowest temperature I saw over the 19-20 winter was 24F/-4.5C, and it was looking like I might make it out of 20-21 with a low of 30F/-1C! Zone 10a!

Then the weather forecasts started getting ominous. As meteorologists started talking of an impending arctic blast event, various weather apps started showing insane lows of temperatures in the teens (F), which seemed absolutely apocalyptic even though a low of something like 15 or 18 isn’t abnormal for here. But it is indeed unusual for such lows to be happening this late in the season. My dreams of having January be a colder month than February were quickly melting.

Closer to the actual onset of the storm, this weather app finally showed what turned out to be fairly accurate predictions (temps in C):

Friday, February 12, after a dusting of ice pellets, the snow commenced. Looks relatively benign at this stage; 9:30am.

Backyard view out my window. Quercus hypoleucoides on left, Eucalyptus perriniana center, in blue. We’ll be seeing these again as the storm progresses.

By about 4pm we had about 2″ of mostly fluffy snow.

I have several young hardy Agaves in the ground in various locations. They’re small enough that 2” of snow can make them look really cute with just their spines sticking up.

Agave parryi var truncata
Agava montana
Agava ovatifolia ‘Huasteca Giant’

Agave ovatifolia ‘Frosty Blue,’ a gift from a dear friend in California, is right up under Grevillea ‘Ivanhoe,’ reportedly a zone 9b plant. Also pictured here is an Asparagus fern. This spot right outside my front door is very protected (or so I think…), and gets extra heat from the house where there seems to be a leak. You can put your hand there and feel warm air flowing out.

Agave ovatifolia ‘Frosty Blue’ earning its moniker, with Grevillea ‘Ivanhoe’

I clipped a temperature gauge onto the tender Grevillea just to see how much warmer it is here. At the time this picture was taken (10pm Friday), the outdoor ambient temperature was about 25F.

16 percent humidity doesn’t seem right, but I do believe the 32F reading.

Speaking of Grevilleas, G. miqueliana var moroka has been supplying hummingbird food for a few weeks now.

I can never have enough bird food flowers on winter blooming shrubs, so here’s my spectacular Arctostaphylos ‘Myrtle Wolf’ which is also right by the front door. If you’re a manzanita fan and you don’t have this cultivar yet, change that!

Arctostaphylos ‘Myrtle Wolf’

The last thing I did before retiring my iPhone camera for the night was take some pictures of my young trees in the backyard. By this point, the precipitation had turned to freezing rain and we were in for a real ice storm. 9:30pm and icicles are long:

8:30 PM and the roof icicles are getting long – about 10-12″ here.

The next few tree pics were from around 10pm. First up is Quercus hypoleucoides. This handsome fellow has experienced getting bent to the ground once before, so I was confident it would be fine no matter what.

Quercus hypoleucoides

Now let’s check on Eucalyptus perriniana, who has only been in the ground exactly a year. I had it staked initially, but had actually removed the tie to the stake just a handful of weeks ago. So you can see the metal fencepost stake here but the tree is not connected to it.

Eucalyptus perriniana, the spinning gum

I actually staked this olive in preparation for this storm, because I realized after checking on it a couple weeks ago that it was a bit rocky in the ground – not firmly rooted. It was initially leaning more to the left, so I placed the stake off to the right and gave it a loose, low tie. Two stakes probably would have been ideal, probably.

Olive ‘Leccino’

Finally the tree I am actually, at this point, concerned about. Lyonothamnus floribundus ssp. asplenifolius, the Catalina Ironwood, is an evergreen with big ferny leaves that are going to catch and hold a tremendous amount of ice. It’s very strongly rooted, so I wasn’t worried about it falling over like with the olive; I was more concerned about it snapping branches.

Lyonothamnus

And look closely at that picture. At this point, I actually had not even noticed it, but one branch was already snapped. It’s on the left about halfway up the tree. See it? I didn’t until just now, as I am posting this! The reason I didn’t notice is because 1) it was dark and 2) the portion of the branch that broke off didn’t make it to the ground! It was stuck hanging in the tree, glued to the lower foliage by the ever-increasing load of ice.

My phone has this really pretty amazing feature of automatic long-exposure for night photos. So what I was seeing with my own eyes was significantly darker than what you see in these 3-second exposure pics. I am frankly glad I missed the snapped branch that night, or I would have worried more.

In the next post I’ll show you what I woke up to find the next morning. And I think I’ll make a third post for all the obligatory artsy ice photos that are so irresistable when this sort of thing happens.

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