Summer storms in northern Virginia are a common and dangerous occurrence. Although we all love the warmth and sunshine of summer, it also brings with it torrential downpours, violent thunderstorms, occasional tornadoes and high winds – we’ve even been hit with hurricanes – all of which put trees and property at risk.
How Storms Damage Trees
We normally think about summer storm damage to trees being caused by strong winds. However, much of the worst damage is usually a result of heavy rain.
The torrential downpours we often see with summer thunderstorms saturate the ground with rainwater. As a result, trees are more easily toppled by winds because the tree roots cannot hold the tree firmly in wet soil. Most of the downed trees you see after a storm are due to roots being pulled out of drenched soil.
Recently-planted trees are even more at risk as they haven’t yet developed a large root system to help stabilize them during unpredictable wind gusts.
That’s not to say that high winds don’t cause damage. Storms also cause broken branches and even snapped tree trunks, making the trees dangerous to be around after the storm has passed. Broken branches, in particular, can fall without warning, severely injuring or damaging a person or structure below.
And don’t forget the damage done to nearby buildings, wires/cables and satellite dishes as branches whip about in the wind.
These Tree Problems Lead To Storm Damage
While you can’t completely eliminate the possibility of tree damage during strong storms, there are things you can do to protect yourself and minimize the risk. Much of the damage sustained by trees during summer storms is preventable if you know what to look for and then take action to remedy the problem.
Take a close look at your trees (stay on the ground – don’t try to climb them!) to see if any of the following problems exist. Each of these issues increases the risk of failure and damage from summer storms.
- Dead or damaged branches and/or trees. Look for deadwood (it’s easy to see while trees are leafed out), cracks or splits, hanging branches or any other sort of damage. These are more likely to snap when under pressure from high winds.
- Diseased or decayed wood. Trees and branches that aren’t healthy are generally weaker and more vulnerable to breakage.
- Structural problems. While a Certified Arborist is best able to identify structural problems that compromise the stability of a tree, there are some things you can see yourself. Look for V-shaped crotches, crossing branches that are rubbing against each other, and top-heavy trees (where the canopy has been “lifted” to provide more clearance underneath).
- Severely leaning trees. Just because a tree is leaning, doesn’t mean that it will fall over. But the more it leans, the greater the risk of failure, especially when the ground is saturated.
- Poor root structure. A tree that’s not firmly anchored is more susceptible to failure during a storm. Things to look out for include girdling roots, cut or damaged roots (such as from nearby construction) and newly-planted trees with little root growth.
- Topped trees. We do not top trees because new growth is poorly attached and susceptible to breakage (among other problems – see our article on tree topping for details). If a tree has previously been topped, it should be inspected for potential safety issues.
- Lion-tailed trees. This is another pruning method we don’t employ because of health and safety implications for the tree. During a storm, the heavy foliage growth at the end of long, bare branch gets whipped around, breaking the branches.
- Overly-dense canopy. A tree with a thick canopy of leaves acts as a sail, rather than letting wind pass through.
- Improperly pruned trees. Some trees are mistakenly “thinned” by removing a lot of branches from the interior of the tree, while leaving plenty of foliage around the outside. Unfortunately, this misguided technique makes storm damage more likely.
If you’re not certain whether or not any of your trees are a safety risk, give us a call and one of our tree care professionals can do a thorough tree inspection to quickly identify any hazardous situations.
How to Prevent Storm Damage to Your Trees
Once you’ve identified any issues with your trees, it’s time to take action to remedy the problem. Ideally, this would be done during early summer (to prevent summer storm damage) or late winter, but even doing the work in the height of the summer storm season will be helpful.
If a tree has severe problems that cannot be fixed, it’s safest (and, ultimately, more cost-effective) to remove the tree entirely.
Recently planted trees should be properly staked so they don’t pull out of the ground during wind gusts. See our tips for how to properly plant a tree.
Most other issues can be addressed by proper pruning. This involves both corrective pruning and crown thinning.
This type of pruning is done to fix problems like crossing branches, to remove dead, damaged or diseased wood, or to trim back overhanging branches that could damage your house or other structures.
Thinning is a pruning technique that reduces the overall size of the tree canopy and increases airflow through the branches (thus reducing wind resistance). Done properly, only about 20% of the canopy is selectively removed throughout the tree. Heavier growth at the end of branches is thinned out to reduce the load so branches are less likely to snap in high winds. This is NOT the same as topping or lion tailing!
If your trees haven’t been pruned lately (in at least the last 5 to 7 years), it should be done now. Regular tree maintenance and pruning by a tree care professional is the best investment you can make to prevent tree damage from storms (during any season!), saving you time, money and the aggravation of recovering from storm damage.
For details and to request a complimentary estimate, visit our Tree Pruning & Trimming page.
And if your trees have already been damaged by rain or wind, call us at 571-244-3838 for emergency tree service and storm damage clean up.