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Extreme Weather Series: High Winds

3rd April 2019

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We tend to think of nature as being gentle and nurturing, but sometimes it can be cruel and destructive. In our ‘Extreme Weather Series’ we investigate the damage that can be caused to or by your trees, even here in Britain, when nature is at its most dangerous.

In the UK we don’t have tornados or hurricanes of any note, and we don’t suffer from seasonal tropical typhoons, but we do have the storm of October 1987 to remind us that, if there is an extreme wind disaster, there is a cost to not being prepared when it comes to tree maintenance.

In just a few hours, winds of up to 100mph wreaked havoc across the south of the country, cutting off electricity and transport routes, causing billions of pounds of damage, and blowing down around 15,000,000 trees.

The trees themselves fell on houses, cars, roads, train tracks, electricity cables and, very distressingly, people.

Some say it was the worst storm in Britain for three hundred years, and the clean-up took what seems like an age, but while incredibly severe, this kind of storm is not unique. Each year many storms hit the UK, and when they reach a certain ferocity they are given names. It’s an American concept, but you might have heard forecasters on the news talking about Storm Angus or Barbara, Conor or Doris during winter 2016/17. Winter 2017/18 brought us Aileen, Brian, Emma, and of course The Beast From The East. Winds of 70, 80 and 90 miles an hour buffeting the nation on a regular basis, each and every year.

How susceptible your garden trees and bushes are to damage in extreme winds will depend on many factors, including species of tree, width of trunk, height, and proximity to your home and other trees.

But why should you care about such things? Surely, if the tree has been there for hundreds of years it will ‘weather the storm’, as it were. Well, every homeowner thinks that up until they hear the crashing, splintering noise of tree on home or car (yours or your neighbours). And, of course, it’s the tree owner’s responsibility to ensure that everything possible is done to prevent such an event, or it could cost them dearly.

Preparation

You cannot prepare for every eventuality – it’s nature and, therefore, often unpredictable, but sensible tree maintenance and regular risk assessments on tall trees or those close to structures or homes are essential.

Just because a tree has lived through many storms before, does not mean it will survive another. Weaknesses caused by successive storms, poor hydration, disease, infestation and more can increase risks. Excessive height or volume of crown can also increase risk. An annual inspection of the most vulnerable of trees in your garden and regular pruning within the parameters of a sensible maintenance plan to ensure the long-term health and structure of your trees is also advisable.

Here are three ways a tree surgeon can prepare your trees for high winds.

  1. Reduce height – By reducing the height of a tree we lower the leverage effect that high winds cause when pushing against the crown (that’s the big green leafy bit up the top).
  2. Thin the crown (remove some of the inner branches) – By thinning the crown, we allow wind to more easily pass through the tree, reducing the ‘sail effect’, thus lowering the risk of it being blown over or branches falling out.
  3. Watch out for fungal brackets (mushrooms on the tree) – Fungi are not always bad for a tree’s health; in fact, most work in perfect harmony with their hosts. However, the presence of some fungus species can be a sign that your tree is in trouble and may even be about to fall over. These fungi can eat through the tree and its root plate, causing it to become a dangerous standing structure. If in doubt, call a qualified arborist for some advice.

Aftermath

The Beaufort scale is a measure of wind speed based on the affects the wind is causing. Beaufort Force 8 (winds of 39–46mph) is a gale and is identified by twigs breaking from trees, Force 9 (winds of 47–54mph) is a strong gale and is identified by branches breaking from trees, and Force 10 (winds of 55–63mph) is a storm, identified by trees being uprooted. After a high wind, there’s often plenty of debris to clear, sometimes fallen trees to remove, and it would always be sensible to assess the true and long-term damage to any trees, as well as whether they now should be further cut back to prevent the risk of more damage being caused by them in the future.

As professional tree surgeons and arborists we know what to look out for, the warning signs, the weaknesses, and the risks, so a thorough tree survey on one or more trees can help to give you peace of mind and put in place a robust strategy for reducing risk and minimising damage when the next winter storm comes along.

To find out more about tree maintenance and surveys, call us on 0208 292 8992. We’re always happy to pop round or to help with a little advice.

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