From an article I have in today’s Journal News/lohud.com:
OK, so your big, beautiful trophy trees survived Irene — now what?
First, of course, continue with whatever cleanup needs to be done in your yard to get rid of debris dumped by the storm. And look for any hanging branches that were broken but remain attached to the tree. Those need to come down right away.
Then do a careful assessment of your property to see what needs attention before the next big storm sweeps through the Lower Hudson Valley. Ideally, you should walk your property with an arborist certified by the International Society of Arboriculture to look at every tree for signs of vulnerability.
“A professional will see things that a homeowner may not see,” says Brad Gurr, a certified arborist and branch manager (“no pun intended”) for SavATree in Buchanan, adding that he does these property walks twice a year as a free service for his regular customers.
“What we look for are any signs of decay, especially at the base of a tree,” Gurr says. Mushrooms at the base may indicate internal decay and rot. Cavities and hollow spots may be another sign of tree weakness.
“Lifting or heaving around the roots of a tree could be a sign that it’s unstable,” he adds.
Gurr also looks for unusual cracks, dead branches high in the canopy of a tree, weakly attached branches and ones with very narrow V-shaped crotches (a U-shaped branch attachment is much better). Branches that reach across power lines or parts of your house and garage should get extra attention.
“It’s not just visual,” he says. “You can hear groaning and cracking.” Unlike most homeowners, arborists can also climb trees or survey them from a bucket truck.
“With winds like this, there’s a lot of snapping and breaking of trees and branches that you can’t see from the ground,” says Ken Almstead, a certified arborist and the CEO of Almstead Tree and Shrub Care Co., which is based in New Rochelle with offices throughout the tri-state area.
Wind storms like the one on Sunday are “definitely more devastating when the trees are in full leaf,” Almstead says. “It creates more of a wind-sail effect.”
Inspect existing tree cables or braces, too, Gurr advises. Many of the old metallic cables will be fine, or they might need to be replaced with nonmetallic (plastic or carbon fiber) cabling systems that allow more sway and movement within the upper branches.
Any tree that sits in disturbed soil may be vulnerable, too.
“Trees in areas with recent construction are at much higher risk of failure than ones in an established landscape for a long time,” says Gurr, noting that “recent” means anything in the last 10 years.
Vines attached to trees in themselves may be harmless, but “vines can conceal defects and problems with the tree,” he says.
In general, trees that suffered damage in this storm may be problematic in the next one.
“I’ve seen six or seven trees today that were partially uprooted and growing into other trees or tree canopies,” Almstead says.
“Those will be a problem in the next storm,” he adds, and probably should come down now — or they may be able to be saved with cables.
Also look for trees with early fall color, Almstead says. That’s another sign of stress.
When it comes to tree damage from major storms like Irene, remember that proper maintenance goes a long, long way.
“Most of the downed trees that I’ve seen from this storm — 75 to 85 percent — had some level of structural damage,” Almstead says. “The vast majority failed because of decay, some kind of root rot.”