Ice storms are a type of extreme winter weather event common to north temperate and boreal forests worldwide. Recent climate modelling studies suggest that these storms may become more frequent and severe under a changing climate. Compared to other types of storm events, relatively little is known about the direct and indirect impacts of these storms on forests, as naturally occurring ice storms are inherently difficult to study. Here we describe a novel experimental approach used to create a suite of ice storms in a mature hardwood forest in New Hampshire, USA. The experiment included five ice storm intensities (0, 6.4, 12.7 and 19.1 mm radial ice accretion) applied in a single year, and one ice storm intensity (12.7 mm) applied in two consecutive years. Results demonstrate the feasibility of this approach for creating experimental ice storms, quantify the increase in fine and coarse woody debris mass and nutrients transferred from the forest canopy to the soil under the different icing conditions, and show an increase in the damage to the forest canopy with increasing icing that evolves over time. In this forest, little damage occurred below 6.4 mm radial ice accretion, moderate damage occurred with up to 12.7 mm of accretion, and significant branch breakage and canopy damage occurred with 19.1 mm of ice. The icing in consecutive years demonstrated an interactive effect of ice storm frequency and severity such that some branches damaged in the first year of icing appeared to remain in the canopy and then fall to the ground in the second year of icing. These results have implications for National Weather Service ice storm warning levels, as they provide a quantitative assessment of ice-load related inputs of forest debris that will be useful to municipalities creating response plans for current and future ice storms.
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