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Are Your Trees at Risk During a Storm?

Broken Trees from a Storm

By Tchukki Andersen

Have you ever wondered if the large trees on your property would fall during a wind or storm event? First, stop worrying. Most trees in commercial settings are sound and have many years of healthy life before becoming a hazard. However, if the tree is unsafe it could be a threat to lives and property. How does a tree become a hazard?

Many trees are damaged throughout the year by windstorms, lightning or ice and snow accumulations. Damage usually consists of a few broken branches. However, more severe damage — such as splitting or pulling apart of branch unions, removal of large areas of bark, twisting and splitting of the trunk, or even uprooting — pose possible dangers.

Additionally, over the years, growing trees will add more leaves, becoming heavier and will “catch” more wind, so they are prone to increased mechanical stresses, thus increasing the chances of failure. Larger trees will also affect an increased area should they or their larger limbs fall. This means that buildings and power lines that might not have been threatened a few years ago might now be under threat by a tree that has grown.

Preparing trees to better withstand these natural events is necessary and should be done well in advance of storm season. To help ease these dangers, have a professional arborist evaluate your trees. Doing this will help identify potential weaknesses and dangers.

Warning Signs

Look at your trees for the following warning signs:

• Dead or partially attached limbs hung up in the higher branches that could fall and cause damage or injury.

• Cracked stems and branch forks that could cause catastrophic failure of a tree section.

• Hollow or decayed areas on the trunk or main limbs or mushrooms growing from the bark could indicate a decayed and weakened stem.

• Peeling bark or gaping wounds in the trunk also indicate structural weakness.

• Fallen or uprooted trees putting pressure on other trees beneath them.

• Tight, V-shaped forks, which are much more prone to failure than open U-shaped forks.

• Heaving soil at the tree base is a potential indicator of an unsound root system.

Remember, too, that a tree is a living thing, and its integrity and stability change over time. Don’t assume that a tree that has survived 10 severe storms will necessarily survive an eleventh.

Your landscape may sustain damage from fallen trees and limbs, but do not attempt to clean up this debris yourself. Hidden dangers such as fallen power lines and unpredictable tree mechanics can harm untrained civilians. As you assess the post-storm landscape, consider the following:

If a Utility Line Is Down

First, if a utility line is down:

• Do not approach. Assume any downed line is energized.

• Avoid touching anything near the downed line and make sure nobody goes near the line. Contact with energized lines can result in electrocution.

• Be aware that downed power lines can be hidden in brush and foliage. Play it safe; call a tree care professional.

A DIY Job?

Second, when deciding whether to try removing a tree or large branch yourself:

• Consider the size and location of the tree. If the work requires you to leave the ground or if the tree is more than 20 feet tall, call a tree care professional. Do not attempt any tree work from a ladder.

• Carefully inspect the tree and the surrounding area for anything — utility lines, structures, vehicles, shrubs — that might interfere with the removal of tree pieces. 

• Note other people in the area. You don’t want anyone to wander near the drop zone.

• Even small trees bent under tension can be extremely hazardous. Do not cut wood that is under tension (when one or both ends are trapped under something).

• Ask yourself, “What will happen when I cut this branch/tree?” Consider all the possibilities. If you don’t know what to expect, you should not be doing the cutting.

• Plan an escape route from the falling tree before cutting. 

• Do not use a chain saw for tree removal unless you have years of experience. Even tree-care professionals face risk of injury using chain saws. Tree and branch removals are very unpredictable. Don’t take unnecessary chances.

If you have any doubts, bring in your local tree care professional to handle the post-storm cleanup.

Facility professionals and property managers/owners looking for tree care companies should:

• Be wary of tree care scammers. With hundreds and possibly thousands of dollars at stake, not to mention the integrity and appearance of your property and the safety of those on your property, make sure that you take your time in deciding which company you should hire. To report a tree-care scam, call the FBI and National Center for Disaster Fraud's (NCDF) hotline at 866-720-5721.

• Be aware that price gouging is another form of tree care scamming. If you believe you are a victim of price gouging, you can file a consumer complaint with your state’s Attorney General’s Office.

• Ask for current certificates of liability and workers’ compensation insurance, if applicable. Be aware that if the tree care company you hire doesn’t have insurance or is not a legal company, then you, the manager/owner, could be held responsible as a contractor.

• Ask for local references, and check on the quality of their work and level of service.

• Verify professional affiliations the company might have, such as memberships in business or professional organizations, or accreditation with the Tree Care Industry Association

• Insist on a signed contract as to cost, dates when work is to be performed, and exactly what is to be done.

• Get a second opinion and quote.

Find a Professional

There are inherent dangers for one attempting tree care or tree removal. Untrained civilians should think twice before trying to duplicate the work of professionals. For safe and efficient post-storm work, hire a tree care professional with the experience, expertise, and equipment to safely take down or prune damaged trees. 

An easy way to find a tree care service provider in your area is to use the “Find A Tree Care Company” program. You can use this service by calling 1-800-733-2622 or by doing a ZIP Code search on treecaretips.org

Tchukki Andersen, Certified Treecare Safety Professional (CTSP), Board Certified Master Arborist, is staff arborist with the Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA), a public and professional resource on trees and arboriculture since 1938. TCIA has more than 2,400 member tree care firms and affiliated companies. All member tree-care companies recognize stringent safety and performance standards and are required to carry liability insurance and workers’ compensation insurance, where applicable.


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posted on 10/5/2018