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Mon, Jan 21, 2019 at 8:26 AM

Tree damage caused by hurricanes

On October 24th, 2005 Hurricane Wilma hit South Florida where HurricaneCity.com is located. In most South Florida cities winds were measured between 75 & 95mph with gusts to 110mph. Here at HurricaneCity, we measured 86mph as a high gust on our weather tower seen here. The instruments are located 33ft above ground and are unobstructed. We feel that these measurements are 99.9% accurate as we had the front & backside of Hurricane Wilma hit our instruments. The eye passed directly overhead as seen here in this video. The following observations of tree damage was made by Jim Williams of HurricaneCity.com and is based on damage to trees in Broward & Palm Beach counties two weeks after the hit.

Tree Damage

Palm trees: Our 30 ft tall queen palm did not fall despite their vulnerability to toppling in hurricanes. I was very suprised to see many queen palms in many areas I viewed still standing. Coconut palms did about as well as you could expect. I would say roughly 10% were toppled with many standing palms showing many palm fronds hanging limp. They were obviously wind beaten and will most likely come back. We have several young coconut palms about 4 ft high and they all did very well with only a couple of broken branches. A baby palm about 2 ft high blew over and the roots became detached. It most likely will not survive. Sabal palms did extremely well as they are a hardy palm showing minimal damage. The Christmas & foxtail palms that I saw looked like they survived well. Overall I grade all palm trees from Hurricane Wilma as having done very well.

Tree Damage

Large trees: Ficus trees are vulnerable to toppling in high winds especially if they are not trimmed. Ficus trees are probably the most dramatic example of the power of the Hurricane. These trees suffered extensive damage throughout South Florida. At first glance you could say that 90% of these trees look to be destroyed, but many will come back. I would say a ballpark figure of 40% of these trees were uprooted during hurricane Wilma with the remaining 60% badly damaged. Many of these trees were completely stripped of leaves or partially uprooted.

Tree Damage

Pines: Australian pines did better than I thought they would. I noticed probably less than 20 toppled or cracked but of course many had branches break off. Slash pines also did well as many that I saw had branches break off, but the majority were left standing. Norfolk island pines (the ones that look like big christmas trees) did not fare well as to be expected. I did not notice any toppled, but many of them had 50 to 90% of the branches stripped from the trunk. In our video above you will see many of these flying off of the neighbors Norfolk pine.

I am simply amazed at how brown every tree is after hurricane Wilma. With the exception of the palm trees & bushes most of what is normaly green is now brown & dead looking. Even many hedges I have seen are mostly brown. I also noticed that sea grape trees are also brown. Hopefully many of these trees will make a comeback and you can help by doing the following:

Uprooted trees: Place a wet burlap on the roots until it can be uprighted. After the tree is uprighted make sure the roots are covered with dirt and place stakes away from tree with a soft rope around tree to keep it upright.

Partially uprooted trees: Many trees shaken up during a hurricane have the root base soil disturbed. Make sure to fill in voids left when the root base shifted. Alternate water and soil until any pockets are filled by pushing hose down into the void. Do not pile the dirt too high over the roots as it can rot the stem or trunk. You can find out if a tree is alive by scratching off the bark in a small area & see if there is green underneath. Do not do this to palms as the bark will not grow back.

Trees that are not uprooted but look dead: Water them to rinse off any salt from the tree. Hurricanes carry salt water well inland and can harm trees and plants. Trim off any broken or damaged branches and cut back anything that looks bad. Let any plants recover for a few months before fertilizing. Dead palm fronds on palm trees should stay on. They actually help to give the palm needed nutrients. Palm trees take longer than other types of trees to recover, be patient! Do not hatrack, in other words, do not cut off all branches & leave stub branches. This is illegal in many communities and the tree becomes a dangerous sail during the next hurricane. Most trees that survive start to make a comeback in roughly 3 months.

The information provided above on how to deal with trees damaged by hurricanes was found in Stormscaping by Pamela Crawford. 160 pages of great information on how to prepare your trees & recover from hurricanes. Listen to our discussion about hurricane tree damage right here. (real player)