Sunday, August 28, 2011

After the Storm - Lessons Learned about People and Trees

Shhhh. Do you hear that? It is the collective sigh of relief in the wake of hurricane Irene. Or haven't you let out your sigh of relief yet? I think it’s okay now. Go ahead and breathe.

And now, comes the clean up. And the lessons learned.

One of the first things that I always seem to notice after something like this is what I learn about people. I think that any sort of emergency or disaster either brings out the kindness or the cruelness of people. There are those who reach out to their friends and neighbors, checking in, seeing if they need anything. And there are those who shove ahead of others in the crowded department store lines or loot the homes of people who evacuated their homes. With all of the stress of hurricane preparations and recovery, it's a little disheartening to learn about the negative side of people. So just ignore it. Move on.

The other lessons, of course, are the ones that are learned from Mother Nature. As of this writing, there are at least 19 deaths attributed to hurricane Irene. At least 11 of those deaths were caused by fallen branches or trees.

Millions of people were without electricity during the storms. Again, many of the power outages were caused by fallen trees.

I am a self-professed nature nerd and tree lover, so these statistics about the cruelty of nature  bother me as much as the reality of the cruelty of people. But these thoughts are not quite as easy to ignore. I can do my best to avoid unpleasant people, but my soul would suffer if I thought I had to be fearful of trees.

Thankfully, there has been a lot of research done on hurricanes and trees, conducted  by the experts who have experienced much of it first hand, researchers at the University of Florida IFAS Extension.  Since 1992, they have been studying the kinds of trees that were more apt to break or topple over during hurricanes, as well as the reasons why.  True, some of what they learned was about treess that don’t grow in the northeast. But as with most things in nature (human nature and mother nature) many of the lessons that life provides are not geographically specific.

If you lost trees or lost power, or are just interested in  learning a little bit more about trees and hurricanes, the University of Florida has created an entire website devoted to Trees and Hurricanes.

For example, some of the trees that were found to be MOST wind-resistant in their studies include: American holly, inkberry and bald cypress.  Some of the trees that were the least wind-resistant were:  tulip poplar, southern red oak and water oak.

Here are a few more of the  lessons learned:

Root/Soil Issues
  • Trees growing in confined soil spaces are prone to blowing over.
  • Root defects such as girdling roots cause trees to blow over.
  • Apparently healthy trees can blow down because supportive roots have decayed or soil becomes soft from saturation.
  • Large and old trees blow over; recently planted trees blow over; well established young to medium-aged trees are less likely to blow over.
  • Construction activities within about 20 feet of the trunk of existing trees can cause the tree to blow over more than a decade later.
  • Trees in shallow soils are more prone to blow over than trees rooted more deeply.
  • Uprooted trees can break underground utility lines such as water and sewer.
  • Trees become unstable in soils saturated by lots of rain.
Cultural Issues
  • Trees that are preventively pruned are less likely to fail than neglected trees.
  • Trees with one dominant trunk fair better than trees with co-dominant stems.
  • Trees with bark inclusions are prone to falling apart.
  • Large pruning cuts create decay and cracks that can lead to breakage in storms.
  • Trees in a group blow down less frequently than single trees.
  • Tree trunks can be hollow without openings in the lower trunk; these are prone to failure in storms.
  • Trees that have failed before are likely to fail again.
  • Topped trees break.
So while you are enjoying the relative peace in the wake of the storm, think of the lessons learned. Take care of the people and the trees that you love. And don’t be reluctant to get rid of the ones that may only end up hurting you.


  1. The tree that came down in my neighborhood was completely infested with English ivy. Is this widely accepted as a factor as well?

  2. Hi Val. I would think that English Ivy would cause a problem for two reasons. The first is that English Ivy competes with a tree for nutrients and water and can, therefore, weaken a tree. The reports that I cited did say that trees that were weakened were more likely to fall. The other factor is that English Ivy would create a thicker canopy at the top of a tree, acting somewhat like a sail to catch the wind and topple the trees.

  3. Thanks–Of course a tree can just fall, but I hope people will get the message about vines like ivy! I saw the cross section of the trunk, and the ivy was deep inside.

  4. I just hope people learn to take better care of their trees, and not to get rid of them all together.

  5. Good information! I'll reference this for the RainScaping Newsletter.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Website by Water Words That Work LLC