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Tree Tips For Surviving The Winter Storm Season

What a year of weather contrasts it has been!

The ice and snow event last January was a dramatic conclusion to a storm season that raised havoc with many of our trees and shrubs. Then we experienced record dry summer months. Now, we are cleaning up after the first serious winds of the new storm season.

Past severe storms have blown over thousands of trees. They remind us of what can happen when certain conditions develop such as saturated ground and high winds. These can result in failures of trees with root diseases as well as perfectly healthy trees.

Homeowners that are concerned about the tall trees around their residences and neighborhoods can begin to take some important precautions as the new storm season continues to take hold.

The following tips should be considered to ease concerns about the health and safety of their trees:

1. Survey your own trees.  Trees should be assessed to determine if there has been recent breakage of large branches or tops, if clearing has newly exposed trees to high winds, if construction activity has altered a tree’s growing environment or if a structural defect is visible. If any of these conditions exist, a professional evaluation should be considered.

Be aware of the location of trees and structures in relation to the direction of the prevailing winds. In the Puget Sound area, winds tend to originate from the south or southwest. However, local conditions may alter the direction. For example, some of the strongest winds in the Buckley and Enumclaw areas originate from the east or northeast. 

2. Pay particular attention to recent tree failures. Trees that fall and expose their root balls often have a root disease. When the loss of anchoring roots reaches a certain point, they no longer will support a tree during severe weather.

Old stumps and root balls can often provide clues as to what caused a tree to fall. If a root disease is discovered, adjacent trees may be infected since the diseases usually spread by root to root contact. Suspect standing trees can be inspected by a trained eye to determine if a root rot is present and whether removal should be considered.

3. Conduct a hazard assessment.  If you are truly concerned about a tree’s safety, an inspection by a certified arborist or tree risk assessor will help to identify any structural, health or environmental issues that may render a tree "hazardous."

While it is impossible to predict if, when or what kind of failure may occur, a tree’s long term health and safety can be evaluated. In the majority of the hundreds of assessments I have performed, little or no action has been recommended unless a root disease or structural defect is discovered.

4. Pay attention to weather forecasts. The forecasts for recent windstorms generally have been on the mark. Oftentimes, forecasters will predict when and where severe gusts may be expected. 

However, be aware that the local media sometimes overdramatizes impending storms to stir up viewership

5. Consider altering your lifestyle for a few hours.  Many residents tell me they sleep in basements or carry on activities in sections of the home that are located away from trees in their yards when severe conditions are forecast. 

6. Beware of "doorbell arborists."  I have often been asked for a second opinion regarding recommendations by individuals that canvass neighborhoods soliciting tree work. In nearly all cases, a different perspective was provided that saved dozens of trees and thousands of dollars for homeowners.

Check the credentials of such individuals. If they claim to be "arborists," are they actually certified? If so, they should be able to show proof of certification from the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA). There is a difference between having a homeowner’s best interests at heart and that of a tree service that pays a commission to an uncertified “doorbell arborist” based upon his quote for potential services.

7. What’s next?  Fortunately, few residents are injured in their homes by falling trees. But we have all heard about close calls. So if you are concerned about trees during severe weather, consider the above steps to prepare for the rest of the storm season that can extend into next February.

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Dennis Tompkins is an ISA Certified Arborist, Certified Hazard Tree Risk Assessor and Master Gardener from the Bonney Lake-Sumner area.  He provides small tree pruning, pest diagnosis, hazard tree evaluations, tree appraisals and other services for homeowners and businesses.  Contact him at 253 863-7469, email dlt@blarg.net, or visit his web site: evergreen-arborist.com.

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