Storms and Trees: Are Trees Dangerous?

Downed trees blocked roads

REPUBLISHED June 30, 2012  — the information is still relevant for the horrendous storm last night.  We hope to have electricity to cover the recent storm soon!!!

In the evening of July 3, 2011, a violent storm ripped thru northern Arlington and in a half hour, more than 70 trees were downed. and 11 homes were significantly damaged. The National Weather Service says this was caused by a “macroburst”, which means not only did the winds reach 60 – 80 miles per hour, but they covered a wider area of nearly a mile, with swirling winds. Most trees can tolerate wind in one direction pretty well, but twisting winds cause tremendous structural damage. One observer commented how the tops of trees were twisted around as if they were a corkscrew.

A bicyclist on the C&O Canal died from a falling tree limb. Fortunately, no one died or was injured in the 11 houses significantly damaged. Although the families whose homes were destroyed have difficulty thinking of themselves as “fortunate”. Losing one’s mature tree is upsetting, but losing your tree because it crashed into your house totally disrupts your life and is emotionally gut wrenching. So they are now busy cleaning up the debris, dealing with insurance companies and arranging for repairs. How will they feel about replacing their large canopy trees in the future?

We humans react to risk based on our personal emotions much more than unbiased mathematical odds. We are impacted by what we see and experience: people who watch crime shows believe violent crimes are more common than they are, if a friend is diagnosed with a rare illness then we believe it is more prevalent than reality, and if a tree falls on a neighbor’s house we believe that is a greater danger than it truly is.

Over 90 mature trees were downed in the storm

According to the National Safety Council, the lifetime odds of dying from a motor vehicle accident are 1 in 88. The odds of dying from a firearms discharge are 1 in 6,309 and from a cataclysmic storm it is 1 in 46,044. Rationally, we know driving on the beltway is more dangerous than the tree in our yard. Yet it is not uncommon for homeowners to see large trees as hazards rather than benefits. Often those who lost a mature tree over 50 feet will replace it with a 6 foot dogwood, saying it is “safer.”

So it’s up to those of us who love trees to help people move beyond their fears – and recognize that listening to their fears is more successful than providing the scientific facts. We can use analogies such as safety checks lessen the risks of car accidents, so have an arborist check out mature trees. (The previous post of July 18 Storms and Trees covered this.)

We can encourage homeowners to learn more about trees so they can minimize future risks. Refer them to the Tree Care tab on this website for good information or to take the next TreeStewards training. Last year one applicant answered the question Why Do You Want to Be a TreeSteward volunteer? “My home was destroyed by a falling tree. I want to learn ways to help prevent other families from similar experiences and help preserve healthy trees.”

The loss of a tree can be very emotional; we encourage the planting of a new tree as therapeudic and very rewarding.

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