Preparing for the next storm season

It is not too early to begin to think about the health and safety of large trees in our back yards or those of our neighbors.

By Dennis Thompkins

For The Courier-Herald

It is not too early to begin to think about the health and safety of large trees in our back yards or those of our neighbors. The most severe storms seem to occur in January and February. However, there are a few questions homeowners can begin to address if they are nervous about the tall trees in their neighborhoods.

Many of us remember the devastating storms in February and December of 2006. Thousands of trees blew over. These and other storms that have resulted in tremendous tree losses have two things in common: saturated ground conditions from heavy rainfall and high winds.

Many of 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.

Homeowner tips

If you are concerned about tall trees that could strike your residence during a storm, here are some tips to help lessen your stress.

1. Survey your own trees. Trees should be assessed to determine whether recent clearing has newly exposed trees to high winds, if landscaping activities or excavating close to a tree has damaged roots or whether some other human activity has altered a tree’s growing environment.

One important element is to be aware of the direction of most of the prevailing winds in relation to the location of structures.

2. Pay particular attention to recent tree failures. 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 often spread by root to root contact. These can be closely inspected and, if necessary, be removed.

3. Conduct a hazard assessment. If you are truly concerned about a tree’s safety, an inspection by a qualified 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, I have recommended that little or no action be taken unless a root disease is discovered.

4. Pay attention to weather forecasts. The forecasts for the severe storms in 2006 were right on the mark. Oftentimes, forecasters will predict when and where severe gusts may occur. It seems that peak winds and tree failures usually occur after midnight.

5. Plan to alter your lifestyle for a few hours. Many residents that become nervous during storms tell me they sleep in basements or carry on activities in sections of the home that are located away from trees in their yards. Some visit relatives that have no trees next to their homes or move into motels for an evening.

6. Beware of “doorbell arborists.” I have been requested to provide a second opinion regarding recommendations by individuals that canvass neighborhoods soliciting tree work. In nearly all cases, I have offered a different perspective that saved trees and thousands of dollars for homeowners.

Check the credentials of such individuals. Are they certified? There is a difference between having a homeowner’s best interests at heart and that of a tree service that pays a commission or salary to an uncertified “doorbell arborist.”

7. Consider purchasing a generator. Sales of generators are brisk when it became apparent that power could be out for days in various areas. Be certain to follow directions to avoid poisoning from the fumes. And do not wait until the next storm to make a purchase!

Fortunately, few residents are injured in their homes. But we have all heard about close calls. So if you are concerned about trees during severe winds, consider the above steps to prepare for the approaching storm season.

Dennis Tompkins is a Certified Arborist, Certified Hazard Tree 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 or email at Website:

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