Synthetic turf athletic fields require a significant investment up front in return for significantly reduced maintenance costs over the life of the turf, as compared to natural grass surfaces. Protecting that investment is critical to ensuring that the investment pays dividends as it should. In northern climates, this protection and having a plan in place is even more prominent in the minds of those tasked with taking care of athletic fields. The biggest obstacle in this strategy for late fall season or early spring practices and games becomes the weather, in particular, snow and the removal of it. As a manager of a synthetic turf field and the teams that play on it, how you go about removal of snow and the mechanisms you have in place to do so can alleviate a lot of future headaches. When planning for snow removal, there are a number of questions you’ll need to answer as you craft your snow removal plan. Consider the following:
- How much snow is predicted?
- How much snow has accumulated?
- What type of snow is it - wet and heavy or light and powdery?
- How soon does the turf surface need to be used?
- What do field users need?
- What are space limitations of the field area – are there open areas to push the snow or is it a small, confined area that the snow must be removed from the site?
- Will daytime temperatures allow for any melting?
Knowing the answers to these questions can help put a solid plan for snow removal in place while insuring the investment into your field is protected.
With synthetic turf fields, your warranty is king. It’s important that you know the policies and procedures for taking proper care of your field in accordance with your turf providers warranty. Improper care and the wrong plan may void your warranty and speed up the life expectancy of your field. Read and fully understand your field’s warranty information and contact your installer with any questions ahead of time as warranty policies do differ between makers.
As they say, prevention is the best medicine. Knowing the weather forecast in conjunction with your athletic schedule is critical.
In an optimal scenario, try not to let more than 2-4” of snow accumulate on the field. Snow removal can begin right as snow begins to fall. In those inevitable times when higher snow accumulations occur and removal is simply not possible when the snow begins to fall, the following considerations should be made:
Dry Snow, minimal accumulation
If the snow is of the drier variety, it can be blown off. Utilizing leaf blowers or blowers attached to tractors are effective at removing snow without damage to the field.
Wet snow, higher accumulations
With heavy, wet snow and higher accumulations, blowing the snow off the synthetic turf field will not be possible. In these cases, snow may be plowed off the field with the following procedures:
- Do not use a metal bladed plow. Plows should have either a rubber coating on the blade or a PVC fitting over the metal blade edge.
- It’s important that the bottom ¼-½” layer of snow be left on the field and that the field is not scraped clean as doing so will increase the chances of damage to the synthetic fibers of the field or the seams. Always plow at a slow and steady speed.
- Synthetic turf heats up fast and requires just a little sun to do so. A few exposed spots of green will greatly accelerate the process. Running a field groomer over this after application can help speed the process as well. In the past, deicer has been used however, this may cause skin irritation and can turn into a sticky substance when it mixes with the turf and so this application should be avoided.
The development of ice on synthetic turf fields presents a unique challenge to those responsible for care of fields. Even the best efforts of snow removal for a day of events on a field can quickly freeze after activity stops and cooler nighttime temperatures move in. In these circumstances, driving a tractor over the field to break up the ice can help with removal. Again, infill may be applied to help the melting process.
Chose a Durable Infill
With the standard crumb rubber infill synthetic turf fields, you’ll often hear reports from maintenance crews of black piles of snow laying around their field after snow removal. This is due to the displacement of the black crumb rubber pellets that easily move around during the snow removal process. Choosing another infill, such as Envirofill, can help ensure there is minimal infill movement and provides a cleaner snow removal experience. When a foot of snow fell on Raleigh on Jan 17, 2018, USGreentech customer Director of Athletic Facilities at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Casey Carrick and his team were quick to take action and get the soccer and lacrosse teams back onto the fields.
“We had recently purchased a SnoPusher from Pro-Tech which came in handy for this snow event. We moved the snow across the field to the sidelines. What really surprised us is the relatively small amount of Envirofill infill that stuck to the snow. Typically when we plow fields with rubber infill, there is a significant amount of rubber that sticks to the snow that is being pushed to the field perimeter. When the piles of snow on the sidelines melt, they leave a windrow of rubber material which then needs to be moved back onto the field.” Envirofill stays where it should - in the turf - which is makes it one of the lowest maintenance artificial turf infills on the market.
Snow and in particular, high accumulations present a unique challenge for managers of synthetic turf fields. Having a plan and being prepared for these instances relieves a significant burden of having to figure out a plan after the fact. An additional consideration especially for high school facilities would be to have a list of volunteers prepared that may assist with snow removal of the field when necessary. Parents, athletes, maintenance teams and community volunteers is a great place to start. Be absolutely sure that the warranty information is known and communicated to those tasked with snow removal for your specific field at all times.
With the proper measures in place combined with knowledge and experience, even the harshest of climates will still afford the opportunity for participation on schedule for all teams while protecting the investment into the community and your synthetic turf playing surface.