Warm, Snow-Free Weather Comes With Consequences

By Adam Moeller, agronomist, Northeast Region
January 19, 2012

The lack of snow cover and above average temperatures has been a welcomed sight for many golfers and a striking difference from the winter of 2011. Golf course superintendents, however, are keeping a close eye on the weather and how it could impact turf health for the remainder of the winter. 


‘Snowmageddon’ and ‘snowpocalypse’ were frequently used terms the past two years. This winter, these terms have been replaced with ‘nice shot’, ‘good putt’, and ‘fore’ at many golf courses in the Northeast Region. Unusually warm, dry weather during December and the first half of January has provided an opportunity for some golfers to get in a game. In fact, a few courses saw 80 plus golfers during the second weekend of January when temperatures reached the 50’s.  Although recent snow storms blanketed courses in southern Ontario and parts of New England, most of the region is without significant snow cover, which is not completely positive. I hate to be pessimistic, but it is important to consider some downsides to the unusual weather.


  1. Increased winter play on the putting greens can weaken turf for next year. Because the turf has stopped growing, recovery from traffic will not occur until the spring. More traffic produces more wear, and this translates to increased need for recovery in the spring. Sometimes the amount of recovery needed is minimal, but this is impossible to predict. The bottom line is that winter play never benefits putting green conditions and higher levels this winter can contribute to less-than-ideal surfaces in the spring and summer.
  2. The lack of a significant snow pack, combined with recent fluctuations in temperatures, leaves the turf more vulnerable to cold temperature injury. This is particularly true on Poa annua and perennial ryegrass. Large temperature fluctuations (e.g. 20 °F one day, 45 °F the next) reduce cold temperature hardiness, leaving plants more susceptible to injury from cold temperatures (e.g. < 5 °F) and crown hydration injury. Snow insulates the turf like a blanket so it is generally welcomed. The combination of recent warm days and little snow to insulate the turf is worrisome because cold temperatures are likely to develop at some point. Hopefully some snow pack develops before the cold temperature hits or insulating cover systems have been installed to protect the turf. All that said, we are in better shape at this point in winter than last year. 
  3. On a positive note, the severity of snow mold disease is much lower this year compared to 2011 given the lack of snow cover. However, according to Dr. Jim Kerns, turf pathologist at University of Wisconsin, fungicide breakdown/degradation due to the abnormal weather (primarily a soil temperature response) has likely reduced fungicide concentrations.  He suggests superintendents be ready to treat for Microdochium Patch (often referred to as Fusarium patch or pink snow mold) as soon as air temperatures warm in the spring.   


Although the uncertainty of the winter weather can bring some concerns, and February and early March are still ahead of us, things could be far worse at this stage of winter. For instance, in recent years ice layers have been common in several parts of the region and thankfully, few reports of this scenario exist at this point. Most putting green soils in the region are frozen which also lessens the chances for winter injury. After the record breaking heat of the last two summers and harsh winter of last year, perhaps the turf will finally catch a break. Feel free to contact us if any questions arise about snow/ice accumulation on the turf.


Upcoming USGA Regional Turf Conferences 


  • New England Regional Turf Conference, Providence, R.I., February 7 
  • Met Golf Association/USGA Green Chairman Seminar, Alpine CC, Demarest, N.J., March 15
  • New England Green Section Seminar, Blue Hill CC, Canton, Mass., March 20
  • USGA Regional Conference, Oak Hill CC, Rochester, N.Y., March 27  


USGA agronomists can provide insightful and invaluable information involving all areas of golf course maintenance, which will help maximize turf health, playability, and efficiency. Contact Dave Oatis, director doatis@usga.org; Adam Moeller, agronomist amoeller@usga.org; or Jim Skorulski, senior agronomist jskorulski@usga.org for a Turf Advisory Service visit this season.


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