Replace Your Lost Trees

November 23, 2011

After the devastating October Nor’easter that toppled trees and cut power to hundreds of thousands of homes, it’s time to repair the damage and replace some of the trees that have been lost. This snowstorm was simply unprecedented. The early arrival of so much snow resulted in an unusually high level of collapsed trees, surpassing damage from Tropical Storm Irene in many parts of Connecticut. In fact, some commentators have said that it was the worst snowstorm in the past 500 years.

Take a look at damage around your neighborhood and you will see that the large amount of snow that fell pushed branches past their breaking point. Normally, a foot or more of snow arrives later in the year when trees have lost most or all of their leaves. This increased surface area caught much of the snow that fell, building up weight that ultimately overwhelmed a tree’s internal strength. Since our state is so heavily forested, that means that many branches fell onto power lines and knocked out electrical service. However, now that a few weeks have passed and the sound of chainsaws cleaning up roads and yards has quieted, we can focus on replanting trees that won’t interfere with power lines.

Many different factors come into play in understanding whether a tree will lose a branch or completely fall over. According to a guide called “Urban Tree Risk Management” by the U.S. Forest Service, wood strength is the most important factor in determining how a tree will weather a storm. Other factors also play a role, from roots to leaves to canopy density. Every tree variety has its own characteristics that could make it more or less resistant to a future storm. For example, rooting patterns determine how well a tree is connected to the soil. Some grow with shallow roots while others have deeper roots that act as an anchor. Following this storm, I was amazed to see how many trees had fallen over and exposed the large collection of roots that had once connected them firmly to the earth. The size and shape of a tree’s leaves also determine how much snow can accumulate or how much wind can be captured. With these issues in mind, what would a good, sturdy replacement be?

After some research and assistance from the knowledgeable experts at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, I can share some recommendations for trees that tend to be resistant to ice, snow, or wind storms. According to the study, the most resistant types of trees are spruce, fir, American hornbeam, arborvitae, black walnut, eastern hemlock and ginkgo. Many of our state’s more common trees, such as maples, oaks or sycamores, rank in the intermediate level of resistance to these types of storms. Elms, locusts, poplars and pears are the more susceptible varieties that would see the most amount of damage. These varieties were given different designations depending on the factors mentioned above and from scientists’ own observations in the field following severe storm events.

Our community was deeply impacted by this historic storm that will be long remembered for its intensity, the power outages, and the many damaged trees. I hope this information helps as you are in the process of repairing damage to your property. Now that power has been fully restored, state government must also look at ways of restoring power faster if a future crisis of this magnitude occurs. After weathering this tough experience, I am hopeful that we can all move forward and pick life back up where it left off before Halloween.