Branch breakage under snow and ice loads

Tree Physiol. 1989 Sep;5(3):307-17. doi: 10.1093/treephys/5.3.307.


Measurements were made on branches and trunks of Picea sitchensis (Bong.) Carr. to determine the relationship between (i) the bending moment at the bases of branches that cause breakage, and (ii) midpoint diameter cubed. The theory for cantilever beams was then used to calculate the basal bending moments and midpoint diameters of branches with different numbers of laterals and endpoint deflections, given previously measured values of Young's modulus, taper and weights of foliage and wood. Snow and ice loads (equal to 2 and 4 g cm(-1) of shoot, respectively) were then included in the calculation to determine whether the basal bending moments exceeded the breakage values. The likelihood of breakage increased with an increase in (i) number of laterals, and (ii) endpoint deflection under self weight (without snow or ice)-features that had previously been shown to lessen the amount of branch wood required to support a unit of foliage. However, branches which deflected moderately (> 10% of their length) under their own weight deflected greatly under snow or ice loads and might shed powdery snow before breakage occurs.