This winter could wreak havoc with trees

Weather forecasters are predicting a severe fall and winter because of the La Niña system developing in the Pacific Ocean. According to a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, the region could see a reprise of the snowstorms of 2008, the floods of 2007 or the windstorms of 2006.

Many of us remember the devastating storms in February and December of 2006 when thousands of trees blew over. These and other storms that brought many tree failures had two things in common: saturated ground conditions and high winds.

Homeowners who live amidst our urban forests can begin to make preparations if they are nervous about the tall trees around their residences. Even though the most severe weather generally occurs in January and February, local counties, utilities and emergency services are gearing up early.

Homeowner tips

If a homeowner is concerned about trees that could fall and strike a residence, here are some tips to prepare for the storms.

1. Survey your own trees. Trees should be assessed to determine whether recent breakage of large branches or tops has occurred, if clearing has 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 on the Plateau 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 trees can be inspected by a knowledgeable professional to determine if a root rot is present.

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 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 is discovered.

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

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. 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 provided second opinions regarding recommendations by individuals who canvass neighborhoods soliciting tree work. In nearly all cases, I provided a different perspective that saved 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. 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.”

King County has launched a “Take Winter by Storm” campaign to urge early preparation by homeowners and various agencies. 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 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 e-mail at Website: