When a powerful storm comes to town we are quickly reminded just how unpredictable Mother Nature can be. A major storm can involve thunder, lightning and strong winds, but it’s the aftermath of the storm that is most feared. Will street and tunnels be flooded? Will trees fall onto homes and cars? Will strong winds knock down power lines? When it comes to assessing the damage that has been done following a storm, it’s important to get a good look at the property around your home. However, it’s also very important to remember that the area can be dangerous, and key threats need to be identified. Here are a few tips for remaining safe when taking stock of storm damage:
Broken and Damaged Trees
Many people look on the ground to assess the damage or at least as far up as the roof of their home. Yet trees tend to end up with broken limbs during storms which may not have fallen yet, but could come crashing down at any minute. When heading outdoors, be sure to look up and assess damage to your trees. Loose limbs and branches can be trimmed off, making the tree stable once again.
If damage is done to the trees, you hope that it’s just minor infractions that can be easily fixed up. If a tree is uprooted or knocked down, things get trickier. Before you take a chainsaw to the tree, you may want to call in a professional. Trees that have been knocked down have an unnatural pattern of pressure points, and if you can’t pinpoint where the tension is, you could be in danger. This happens because the tree may experience a violent reaction when it is cut, something called spring poles. Only trained professionals should work with spring poles since the consequences can be deadly. Additionally, it’s difficult to analyze the weight and fulcrum points on an uprooted tree, so the weight can easily shift, leaving a layperson unprepared for the consequences. Naturally, arborists don’t want to see trees causing more damage to homes and structures, but the greater concern is safety of people. No one should risk their safety because they tried to clean up after a storm without professional help.
Perhaps the greatest threat is downed utility lines. The first thing that professionals do when they arrive on scene is identify all of the power lines. If you find that wind or trees have tampered the utility lines, it’s best to call in a professional or wait for the electric/phone company to respond. Although an electrical conductor lying on the ground may look harmless, it’s dangerous to touch. Phone lines can also be deadly since they can be energized and carrying an electrical current. Even lines that are down and disconnected from the feed side could be receiving backfeed or being re-energized from a local generator. Bottom line: NEVER assume that a downed utility line is harmless. These lines are considered “hot” and should be left to a professional. Also remember that metal fences can carry a charge from generators coming online if wires come into contact with it.
Winter Weather Brings Storm Damage, Too
Fall rain storms are not the only types of weather that can cause damage to trees and power lines. As winter weather moves in, snowstorms can bring heavy winds and piles of snow which can be left sitting on the tops of tree branches, limbs and power lines. The same careful review should be exercised after a winter storm as is used after a fall storm—practice looking up so that you’re aware of any trees limbs that may be vulnerable to falling due to piles of snow.
Knowing when to call in a tree care professional can be tricky, but keep in mind that a damaged tree is always more difficult to take care of than one that is standing. If you try to remedy a situation on your own, work within your own limitations, and don’t take unnecessary risks. A professional arborist can assist you in knowing which branches to remove, so be sure to contact one if you’re unsure about any of the tasks at hand when it comes to cleaning up post-storm, no matter the season.