Tree Storm Damage: Effects of Wind on Trees

Since the beginning of time, wind and trees have sustained a stormy relationship which is both constructive and destructive. Wind, one of Mother Nature’s most powerful elements, is an unpredictable force which can uproot, crack, split or break tree trunks, limbs and branches. Conversely, as trees are a constant element in the environment, they have been instrumental in measuring the wind velocity and in helping us prepare for its wrath.

Wind Speed Defined by Trees
Early on, the Dutch needed to know at a glance the speed of the wind. Unannounced strong winds could cause harm to the sails of their windmills, but with advance warning these same destructive winds could be constructively harnessed to provide energy which would propel the windmills. Thus, a wind speed scale was created based largely on how a tree’s motion (characteristics) is affected by the wind.

Tree Uprooting
A healthy tree is able to move (flex) in the wind, which is exactly what prevents it from breaking apart during a storm. But even the healthiest (sound) trees are susceptible to wind injury.

During strong or severe wind storms, full tree canopies can act as a sail in the wind. When wind speeds are excessive, storms can cause entire trees to uproot. This is more likely to occur when soils are wet and the tree’s roots are unable to securely anchor themselves in the soil. Fortunately, many uprooted trees can be saved as long as the majority of their roots are intact and the “patient” can be accessed with large equipment (such as a crane).

Preventing Wind Injury to Trees
On the other hand, trees that are not structurally sound (trees with included bark, decay or root injury) are more likely to experience structural failures. When identified in time, these deficiencies can often be prevented through the installation of artificial support such as cabling and bracing or by a procedure known as hazard reduction pruning. The exception to the above is root injury, which requires a careful examination to determine viable options such as stimulating root regeneration or if necessary, removal of the tree.

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