Author: Thomas Worthley

Dealing with Storm Damaged Trees

Much of the research and demonstration work in the Stormwise program is about creating more storm-resistant conditions in our roadside woods. Growing more storm-resistant trees and forests takes time, of course, and in the meantime the woods we have near our homes and roadsides remain subject to severe winds, downpours, lightning, snow and ice that can be part of severe storm events. The last hurricane-type event was several years ago, and another can happen any time, but more commonly and more frequently these days we are experiencing smaller but very intense storm events. A localized thunderstorm during the summer for example, can be a wicked cell that uproots and rips limbs from trees, downs powerlines and damages buildings and vehicles in a small area.

For my part, the sudden and severe nature of such winds makes me nervous about the potential for damage to my humble little house from trees and limbs. I recall one recent event during which a large limb from the top of a 20-inch white oak was ripped off and came down about 20 feet from where my car was parked. There was, of course, a mess of smaller twigs and branches as well. No real property damage, thank goodness, but it was close. The storm was over a quick as it began, and now, just like many folks around the state, I was faced with a clean-up task. In the end I was fortunate in that the broken limb was at the edge of the woods and easily made into a nice neat little pile of firewood.

For many people, however, the task of cleaning up storm-damaged trees is not so straight-forward and simple. Storm-damaged trees are fraught with abundant problems, dangers, and risks. Cleaning up and salvaging downed, partially down or damaged trees is one of the most dangerous and risky activities an individual can undertake. It cannot be emphasized enough that without a thorough knowledge of safety procedures, equipment capabilities and correct methods for dealing with physically stressed trees, an individual should never undertake this type of work on their own. The very characteristics that make the wood from trees a great structural material can turn leaning, hanging or down trees into dangerous “booby-traps” that spring, snap, and move in mysterious ways when people try to cut them, resulting in serious and life threatening injuries. Just because your neighbor or relative owns a chain saw, it doesn’t make them qualified to tackle a large tree that is uprooted or broken. Contacting a Licensed Arborist, or Certified Forest Practitioner with the right equipment, training, and insurance, is the best alternative for addressing the cleanup and salvage of storm damaged trees, and avoiding potential injury, death, liability and financial loss.

That said, there are a few things a homeowner can do about trees on their property that are damaged and/or uprooted after a storm:

  • First, from a safe distance note the location of any and all downed utility lines. Always assume that downed wires are charged and do not approach them. Even the soil for some distance around a down wire can be charged! Notify the utility company of the situation, stay away and do nothing further until they have cleared the area.
  • Once you are confident that no electrocution or other physical danger exists, you can visually survey the scene and perhaps document it with written descriptions and photographs. This will be particularly helpful if a property insurance claim is to be filed. Proving auto or structure damage after a downed tree has been removed is easier if a photo record has been made.
  • Don’t forget to LOOK UP! While you may be fascinated with examining a downed limb, there might be another one hanging up above by a splinter, ready to drop at any time.
  • Take steps to flag off the area or otherwise warn people that potential danger exists.
  • Remember that even if a downed tree or limb appears stable, it is subject to many unnatural stresses and tensions. If you are not familiar with these conditions, do not attempt to cut the tree or limb yourself. Cutting even small branches can cause pieces to release tension by springing back, or cause weight and balance to shift unexpectedly with the potential for serious injury. Call a professional for assistance.
  • Under no circumstances, even in the least potentially dangerous situation, ever operate, or allow anyone on your property to operate a chainsaw without thorough knowledge of safe procedures and proper safety equipment, including, at the minimum, hardhat, chaps, eye and hearing protection, steel-toe boots and gloves.

An assessment of the damage to individual trees, or more widespread damage in a forest setting is best undertaken by an individual with professional expertise. Homeowners should contact a Licensed Arborist to examine trees in yards or near to structures, roads or power lines. A CT-Certified Forester is qualified to evaluate wind damage in the forest and advise landowners about the suitability of salvage or cleanup operations. The CT-DEEP Forestry Division can provide information about contacting a Certified Forester or Licensed Arborist. Check the DEEP Website: www.ct.gov/deep/forestry or call 860-424-3630. Contacts for arborists can also be found at the web site of the CT Tree Protective Association: https://ctpa.org/ .

While a nice tidy pile of firewood from a tree that was damaged in a storm might be the silver lining of that storm cloud, it is not worth the risk of injury to yourself or someone else when tackling a very dangerous task without the proper knowledge, equipment or preparation.

Value Recovery from Stormwise Roadside Tree Management

During last summer’s Emerald Ash Borer Survey I drove along River Road in Killingworth somewhat amused by signage. A tree crew contracted to the power company had recently performed some right-of-way maintenance that included tree trimming and removals. The amusing signage indicated possession (or not) of the wood material left behind. “Don’t touch this wood!”, “Spoken for” and “Please!!! Take this Wood!!! Free!!” and variations thereof were all in evidence. Such scenes are not uncommon where power right-of-ways have been maintained. What is interesting is that all these signs also subtly indicate value, to someone, who might want to burn it or sell it or use it as a chopping block. Even the homeowner who wants to give the wood away reminds us that it is Free! Acknowledging that it has value and they do us a favor by letting us haul it away.

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Questions & Answers about Stormwise

Chaffeeville Rd forest
Thinned section of the Chaffeeville Road forest

Along Chaffeeville Rd. in Mansfield is a site approximately 1.5 acres in size (a 600 ft. by 100 ft. strip) that is part of the "Stormwise" research and outreach initiative related to trees, forest conditions and storm resistance. The work is being supported in part by Eversource Energy. The site is one of eleven sites around the state that are part of this long-term study.

Our long-term goal is to determine appropriate management approaches for roadside forests that eventually result in roadside forest conditions with species mix, density and structure that will be more wind resistant. It is an alternative, hopefully more comprehensive solution to the risk of tree failure during severe storms than the trimming-only program now being conducted by the utilities or the roadside clearing being applied by DOT. The basic concepts applied are 1) that trees  with adequate space to grow, like any plant, will be healthier trees, 2) trees allowed to move in the wind will develop wind-firmness, 3) tree branches and crowns grow towards the light and thus lean toward the road, and 4) the right tree growing in the right place will not become a problem in the future.

Most roadside woods in our region have never received any management besides trimming, and for the most part have grown somewhat like an unweeded garden. They typically are overcrowded, stocked with some healthy and some unhealthy specimens, and at 80 to 100 years of age, have a number of individuals that are at or near the end of their natural life span. While Chaffeeville Road might not have experienced many tree-failure problems over the years, some communities experienced severe tree related problems along similar wooded roadsides during recent storm events. The Stormwise initiative aims to address this broader issue.

graphic of future roadside forest
Artist: K. Barbieri

The specific management goal at Chaffeeville Road is to retain a canopy of taller trees that are healthy, straight, well-spaced and that have some longevity (about half the number), to bring along a sub-canopy of trees that will develop a shorter, broader, "bushier" appearance and create conditions that will favor the establishment of some younger trees to work with in the future.

The Chaffeeville Road site was selected as one of our treatment sites for several reasons. As part of UConn Forest we have the ability to closely monitor the effects of the treatment over time, the forest stands along the road are quite typical of many other similar roadside forests around the state, the site does include an area of recent-past severe wind disturbance, and the site also affords the multiple educational opportunities from the training of our forest crew to educational workshops for members of the public.

Thank you for your interest. Please don't hesitate to leave a comment or ask another question. We're here to help.

Sincerely,

Tom Worthley

 

 

Thomas E. Worthley
Associate Extension Professor
Middlesex County Extension Center
1066 Saybrook Rd.
Haddam, CT 06438-0070