GO GREEN: Winter is expected to take a toll on trees

Forecasters are predicting more than normal rainfall for November through March and slightly cooler temperatures

Here we go again! The National Weather Service is predicting an unusual repeat of La Niña conditions that may foretell another wet, cooler and windier fall and winter than normal.

Predictions for severe conditions last year partially came true with the wet and cool spring weather we experienced. However, most of the anticipated truly bad winter conditions shifted to the middle and eastern U.S and into Europe.

Forecasters are predicting that November through March could experience rainfall 3 to 5 inches above normal and temperatures 2 to 3 degrees below normal. November and December may experience the most severe windstorms although they can occur anytime throughout the winter months.

The devastating storms in 2006 that blew over thousands of trees remind us of what can happen when certain conditions develop, like saturated ground conditions and high winds. These can result in failures of trees with root diseases as well as perfectly healthy trees.

Homeowners that are nervous about the tall trees around their residences and neighborhoods can begin to take certain precautions before the storm season arrives. The following tips should be considered to ease fears about trees or to help residents make decisions regarding tree removals.


Survey your own trees. Trees should be assessed to determine whether recent breakage of large branches or tops have occurred, if clearing has newly exposed trees to high winds, if some human activity has altered a tree’s growing environment or if a structural defect is visible.

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.


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.


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.


Pay attention to weather forecasts. The forecasts for the windstorms in 2006 were generally on the mark. Oftentimes, forecasters will predict when and where severe gusts may be expected.


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.


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 trees and thousands of dollars.

Check the credentials of such individuals. If they claim to be “arborists,” are they certified? If so, they should be able to show proof of certification from the International Society of Arboriculture. 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.”

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 approaching storm season.