After the Hurricane: Dealing with Damaged Trees

hurricane damage
Debris and damaged trees in the U.S. Virgin Islands, after Hurricane Maria, September 28, 2017. Photo by Gregory Ferreira, U.S. Air National Guard.

Hurricanes bring winds that can exceed 125 miles per hour, heavy rain, and flooding — any or all of which can damage trees. Some damage can be seen immediately, while some damage may not become apparent for years after a hurricane.

On the other hand, what may initially seem like mortal damage — all the leaves blown off, for example — may be just temporary. Leaves saturated with saltwater turn brown and look like they’ve been burned. If not hazardous, these trees should be monitored for 6 to 12 months before deciding to cut them.

Downed or weakened trees can be hazardous to people, buildings, and power lines. Storm-damaged trees should be assessed for risk as soon as possible after a hurricane or other major storm. Signs that a tree could be a hazard include:

  • New cracks in the lower trunk or large stems split from the tree;
  • Major roots severed or broken;
  • Tree partially uprooted;
  • Noticeable tree lean in response to the storm;
  • Large limbs broken; and
  • Most of crown damaged.

If one or more of these conditions are present, consult with a professional arborist as soon as possible. Until the tree damage is addressed, stay clear and keep vehicles and other movable assets out of range.

hurricane damaged tree
Hurricane-damaged trees can in turn damage houses and other property. Photo by Brett Perkins, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Some Tips When Hiring a Tree Service

  • Beware of scams — unsolicited offers, bargain deals, and out-of-state companies with offers too good to be true. Use a qualified arborist; unqualified workers could get hurt on your property or cause irreparable damage to trees.
  • Ask for certificates and proof of liability insurance and workers’ compensation. Contact the insurance company to confirm that policies are current.
  • Ask for references and check them.
  • Do not use any company that recommends topping.
  • Sign a written agreement before the work. Never pay in advance.
  • Landowners with larger stands of trees will need to develop a plan for salvaging damaged timber.

Review guidelines for conducting surveys, evaluating damage, and prioritizing salvage here.

Adapted from: Mississippi homeowners guide: working with trees affected by Hurricane Katrina. Available from Mississippi Forestry Commission (MFC).

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