Summertime is here in the Midwest which means thunderstorms and the potential for severe weather. Severe weather and trees are a bad combination, in many cases resulting in damage to the tree as well as surrounding structures or other targets. Summer can be of heightened risk as our deciduous trees have all their leaves, which can act as a sail effect in high winds leading to a higher risk of structural failure. High winds can cause branch failure, trees to split, and in some cases complete uprooting of trees. These types of risks lead to necessary cleanup of the damage which can vary from minimal impact to extremely hazardous situations. Hazardous situations resulting from significant tree damage will require skilled, professional arborists to complete the work safely. In any case, it is always best to contact an arborist to inspect the damage and determine what the best and safest options are for completing the work and prolonging the life of the tree if possible.
It is easy to be in a hurry to clean up fallen trees and downed limbs in a storm event. This is when accidents and injury risks are highest. During this time, we need to slow things down rather than be in a hurry. It can be overwhelming trying to clean up your property, but the slow and steady approach is the best option. If your property has suffered tree damage after a storm there are a few things to keep in mind before you start any cleanup work.
Trees are not the only things that can suffer damage after a storm. It is quite common for power lines to be damaged as well. Always be on the lookout for compromised power lines before you start any work. All utility lines should be treated as energized, even when they are on the ground. Electrical conductors are often hidden by broken limbs. An electrical conductor could be in contact with a metal fence or guard rail many feet from where you are cleaning up storm-damaged trees. Serious injuries are possible in these cases, so always be aware of your surroundings before starting any cleanup work.
While inspecting your property for compromised power lines you should also be looking for any broken or hanging limbs up in trees that are still standing. These limbs are called “widow makers” and could be dislodged at any moment. These widow makers should be addressed first before any groundwork is started. Most of the time this work requires an arborist to ascend the tree and address what is needed in a safe manner. Leave that up to the professionals, never get on a ladder with a saw as working at height with dangerous tools is an equation as an amateur should not be involved in.
Once you have inspected your property and put controls in place for any hazards, then you can safely begin the cleanup work. Always use caution when it comes to cutting up the fallen branches whether you are using a handsaw or a chainsaw. It is not uncommon for storm-damaged trees or broken branches to be pinned under other branches or trees and under tension. Cutting something under tension will result in a release of energy, which could be a dangerous situation if you aren’t trained or competent in how and where to safely cut that tree or branch. Personal protective equipment (PPE) is critical for your safety and your protection from an unexpected incident. If we knew when an accident was going to occur, we would certainly be better prepared to protect ourselves. PPE is what we wear to protect ourselves from the unexpected. In tree work, the most important PPE is safety glasses, boots with toe protection, and hard hats. If utilizing power equipment such as a chainsaw, then also add hearing protection and chaps for protecting your legs from potential chainsaw kickback. When it comes to cutting, cut the branches into small manageable pieces. Trying to drag or carry large or heavy branches can lead to injuries. If you are cleaning up the debris with friends and family always be aware of where they are while working. Not knowing the proximity of people around you can lead to accidents and injuries. Before you begin cutting make sure to know the location of everyone you are working with. Again, the slow and steady approach is best to minimize the chance of accidents and injuries.
The atmosphere surrounding a storm can be chaotic, but the response and cleanup work needs to be done calmly and safely. You need to evaluate your property and prioritize the worst cases first. Our work needs to be dictated by safety. We never want to be in a hurry as this is when more damage and accidents are likely to occur. The large majority of storm damage work should be carried out by trained professionals. Safety is our primary focus when addressing storm-damaged trees, knowledge and experience are the keys to preserving damaged trees if possible.