It has been more than two weeks since devastating Hurricane Michael landed hard on the coast of Florida. Central-Panhandle counties from the Gulf to the Alabama line are in full recovery mode, struggling to return to normal after many days without power and clean water. A strong category 4 hurricane, Michael brought sustained winds of 155 mph, with gusts likely much higher—many instruments that measured wind speed failed and blew away with the onslaught of the storm.
Unfortunately, with winds this strong, trees of every shape and description blew down, bringing with them serious damage to homes, vehicles, and power lines. In the immediate aftermath of a storm, it is important to perform “tree triage” using the same method as emergency room personnel as they decide which patients to treat first, based on urgency.
Hazard trees causing or leading to unsafe conditions should be given priority. These would be limbs and trunks on top of houses, power lines, blocking roads, or leaning in precarious situations that could blow down on people or property. Once roads are cleared and dangerous trees and limbs are removed, homeowners can move their attention to downed trees that are lying out of harm’s way or leaning away from property.
It is important to remember that many injuries from hurricanes happen after a storm—often when physically and emotionally exhausted storm victims are using heavy machinery at elevated heights. Always be willing to ask for help, whether from volunteers, neighbors, or landscape professionals. Use proper safety precautions when utilizing chainsaws, ladders, tractors, and other machinery.
On a more positive note, many trees can be salvaged after a storm. In particular, younger, newly planted trees can often be righted or pruned and still grow to maturity. Don’t fall into the trap of clearing every tree from your property—healthy or not—out of fear. Trees are extraordinarily valuable, and particularly with all of the tree loss it is more important than ever to save as many trees as you can. These trees will provide much-needed shade, oxygen, air and stormwater filtration, and wildlife habitat. Learn the names of your trees that survived or had less damage, and plant more of those after recovery. Many long-lived species like magnolia, live oak, and cypress can weather storms better than other species.
It is important to continue monitoring any surviving trees for damage. Many trees, particularly pines, can be susceptible to disease, insect damage, and fungus after a storm and it may be several months before the damage is fully evident. After Hurricane Ivan, many pine forests and individual trees that survived the storm were lost to pine bark beetles within the following year.
For detailed information on tree assessment and making wise decisions, the IFAS Trees and Hurricanes publication has great photos and examples. Be sure to check it out and contact your local county Extension office if you have questions.