Ecological effects of natural disturbances depend on the disturbance type, frequency, intensity and spatial scale. Of the major natural disturbances in the Northeast, ice storms are more frequent than fires or wind storms. Affecting nearly ten million hectares, the ice storm of January, 1998 was probably the most intense and widespread natural disturbance in the Northeast during the 20th Century. Some of the areas heavily impacted by this ice storm were sandstone pavement pine barrens of northeastern New York, among the rarest ecological communities in New York State. Jack pine (Pinus banksiana) is the dominant tree species in the barrens. Ice storm damage to pine trees resulted in estimates of woody debris averaging 18 tons/ac (40 tonnes/ha) at the eight sites sampled in this study. These unusually high fuel loadings increase the probability for catastrophic wildfire. Predictions of fire behavior and fire intensity in these ice storm-damaged stands were made using the TSTMDL subsystem of BEHAVE. Estimates of fire behavior in these ice storm-damaged stands include flame lengths between 10 and 17 ft (3 and 5 m) and fireline intensities between 900 and 2600 Btu/ft/sec (3175 and 9400 kW/m). Fires of these intensities would be very difficult to suppress and would cause adverse ecological effects, including destruction of seeds contained in the slash. Further research is necessary to customize fuel models used to predict fire behavior in northeastern forests affected by disturbances.
Published in SUNY Plattsburgh's Scientia Discipulorum: Journal of Undergraduate Research. Volume 1, issue 1, pages 17-25. 2004.