Tree health post storms?
March 12, 2018 8:43 AM   Subscribe

I'm in MA, where we've had three Nor'easters in three weeks. Some trees were damaged in the first storm (strong winds); many more were damaged in the second (heavy snow). We have another Nor'easter predicted for tomorrow. Do you have any tips for assessing health (or, conversely, likelihood of dropping limbs or falling altogether)--primarily as a driver or pedestrian, rather than a tree owner?

We personally have a large oak that lost what's probably more a large branch than a limb--but still surely of a size that would have literally killed anyone it fell on. The overall health of the tree is entrusted to arborists we quite like, so I know that at some point, they'll tend to the would and ensure it and our other trees are healthy.

Nearby walking trails have a lot of trees down or at highly suspect angles. There are a lot of trees that overhang roads here, as well. My trusted arborists, obviously, do not tend to all the trees I encounter.

When there has been a big storm, how do you know when it's safe to walk/drive under trees again? So far, my rule has been to wait until the snow has melted from the branches (i.e., taking the weight off), if the storm in question was a snow storm, but am as familiar with actual trees as I am with Ents. I realize I'm more likely to be hit by a car, but I know the steps necessary to best ensure I am not; I don't know how to be safe under a weak tree (or whether a tree is weak in the first place).

Tree people, when do you feel safe out under the boughs after a storm?
posted by Admiral Haddock to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I live in MA and hike in both MA and NH. I have encountered many a downed tree in my wanderings (and certainly many after these recent storms) but I've never had a close call with a falling tree or branch, or heard of anyone else having one, let alone actually being hit. It's also not something I've ever heard mentioned in any of the hiket safety things that I've read or attended, except that one should not actually pitch a tent under a dead tree or branch. Nothing about just walking under them.

I think this is becsuse usually when things fall down, it's during the actual storm when destructive forces are at their highest (and people are indoors). That's not to say that trees never fall partway into an unstable configuration and then finish falling a few days later, but most of the trees that come down do so during the storm itself. Even if they're going to come down a few days afterward, it's unlikely to happen in the few seconds that you're underneath it.

The real danger in my opinion is downed power lines. In my neighborhood, it took days to get all the power lines off the ground after the first of those recent nor'easters.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 9:19 AM on March 12

A big maple came down in the forest outside our apartment last year. It would have been Very Bad for someone standing underneath, but it made so much noise, and came down so slowly, that I suspect anyone nearby would have had plenty of time to rabbit down the trail. (I was sitting at my desk peering out the window into the night, cursing the college kids down the street for setting off fireworks. Didn't realize til morning what it actually was.)
posted by restless_nomad at 9:41 AM on March 12

If you are concerned with minimising risk, don't walk with headphones on, don't drive with music on. The sound made by falling branches or entire trees is a more than sufficient early warning system.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:57 AM on March 12 [4 favorites]

Yeah, in my experience, generally anything big enough to hurt you is going to make a lot of noise before/as it falls (a possible exception being loose branches that are already detached from the tree but have gotten stuck, but even in this case something else is going to have to break or bend in order to free the loose branch). If you're walking, you will hear this coming and have plenty of time to get out of the way except in the freakiest of freak circumstances.

When you're driving, it's harder to hear those noises, but also your car isn't going to spend a long time under any one tree. Be careful where you park, but getting hit by a falling tree while actually driving is an incredibly rare occurrence.
posted by mskyle at 10:00 AM on March 12

I’m in MA too and I decided against hiking this weekend, the wind was still strong enough that I wasn’t comfortable with the way the woods sounded. We lost 5 trees in our backyard and are in prime snow damage area, it might as well have been precipitating cement last week.

Once the snow is gone and the wind has died down, though, the odds of a tree or limb crashing down are very very small. Very very small. If something is leaning on your property do have it evaluated by an arborist because it’s something you, personally, will have to take care of and the sooner the better.

Good luck tonight and tomorrow, if we get two feet of snow I might actually go out and scream at the sky.
posted by lydhre at 10:00 AM on March 12

If trees are stressed, because it's windy or there is heavy snow/ice on the branches, that's when they're most likely to come down. Anything beyond that and you're kind of worrying about a random occurrence, which is really not something you can control for.

Don't walk/drive during storms or after an ice storm until the branches have had time to clear a bit and you'll be fine.
posted by bondcliff at 10:24 AM on March 12 [1 favorite]

When you're driving, it's harder to hear those noises, but also your car isn't going to spend a long time under any one tree.

In that vein, BEWARE at stop lights and stop signs.

A few years back, a few days after a major snowstorm, I was the second car at a stop light and watched as the car in front of me was crushed by a massive falling tree limb.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 10:35 AM on March 12

Thanks for the sanity check. Good call on skipping the headphones; I'll do that for a bit.

I think two years ago there was a week where three people were killed by falling branches (two in Canton maybe? and another elsewhere).

My head is so lovely and convex and I really would hate for it to be concave.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 11:14 AM on March 12 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I just keep an eye up at the moment. Most of the damage on our street has been done but there is one fairly large limb hanging vertically down from a tree down the street, over the road, 90% broken, and that thing's coming down as soon as a school bus or UPS truck hits it at the right angle. So I've just been swerving a bit to avoid driving directly under it. There are a few others on my commute in that vein and I'm just careful about not spending any time under them.

My husband also did a perimeter walk of our property to pull down hanging branches (we are surrounded by woods). He could only get the ones he could reach - there are plenty more up higher that we can't get at yet without other equipment, and until we deal with those I'm going to be careful about letting my kid play out under those particular trees.
posted by olinerd at 11:37 AM on March 12

Be especially careful after prolonged rain! The storm before this one was rainy, and THEN the winds blew in, and I saw an alarming number of whole trees tipped right out of the ground (far northeast Rhode Island). There were both hardwoods and pines, so blaming bad roots would be a mistake. :7)
posted by wenestvedt at 1:39 PM on March 14

Also, snow falling can be trouble: today I drove in to downtown Providence, and saw three different highway light fixtures drop yard-long slabs of ice+snow onto the road that looked as big as tree limbs. The third one hit right in front of me, and made an enormous crashing splash of white!

(And that's ignoring the icicles....)
posted by wenestvedt at 1:41 PM on March 14

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