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Hurricane Season 2023

UF study: Some tree “defects” don’t predict whether a tree will fall in a hurricane


Just because a tree looks a bit odd or damaged, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to topple during a tropical storm or hurricane, new University of Florida research shows.

When assessing trees, arborists normally examine dozens of visual defects to determine which trees pose an unacceptable risk of “failure” — for example, falling or uprooting.

A tree with visible defects does not necessarily mean it will fall during a hurricane, says Andrew Koeser, a UF/IFAS associate professor of environmental horticulture. Courtesy, Andrew Koeser.

For the new study, UF/IFAS researchers surveyed trees with three defects — just two weeks after Hurricane Ian in 2022.

Scientists studied branches that stick out beyond the rest of the crown, trunks that split into two equal size stems and multiple branches that connect to the trunk all at the same point.

These growth patterns tend to be seen as weaknesses by tree care professionals, but few studies have assessed if they are too weak to survive a storm.

“We looked at past research (including our own) and noticed these defects never predicted failure. This surprised us, so we decided we would only look at these three conditions when the next hurricane hit,” said Andrew Koeser, a UF/IFAS associate professor of environmental horticulture.

That next hurricane struck Florida on Sept. 28, 2022. Koeser, a faculty member at the UF/IFAS Gulf Coast Research and Education Center and his team started examining trees in Hillsborough County parks.

By the time it swept through Hillsborough County, Ian’s strength had lessened to a tropical storm with top winds of 60 mph – a wind speed you would expect a sound tree to be able to weather.

Researchers surveyed 1,518 trees and found the storm broke branches on only 14 trees, or less than 1%. No trees fell or were uprooted.

This mirrors some of Koeser’s prior research. In a survey of the Naples area after Hurricane Irma in 2017, he led a team that found about 75% of trees sustained no damage.

Despite these data, people should protect against potential tree damage when a tropical storm or hurricane is approaching, Koeser said.

“Our study was conducted in managed areas in a county park system, so the spacing of the trees and their care were very similar to what you would likely see in a residential setting,” he said.

Furthermore, some defects like dead branches, big holes in the trees’ trunks and recently uprooted trees that lean have been tied to tree failure in hurricanes, said Koeser.

“Those defects are the ones people should look out for,” he said.

The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS brings science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents.

For more information, go to ifas.ufl.edu

Hurricane Season 2023, University of Florida, UF/IFAS, Trees, Hurricane Prep, Study


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  • MamaMia

    In front of Walgreens uptown on 441, that one large palm left from the Champneys house days needs removed. It is dead, and if you look up high, it has that tiny little waist, or that's what I call it. I think about what if that top part of the palm fell, and someone was walking by on the sidewalk! It would be a challenge to take out that tree, but it could be done Needs it done before hurricane season. I am not sure if that is on the right of way, or private. It appears to be on private property, Coming from Mt. Dora area near 441 and 46, where all of those various trees were planted, we saw stacks of those beautiful expensive palms, dead, and piled up to be taken away, on the sides of the road. I think those were shipped in from Arizona. They are like the ones Apopka installed near the city center, on the highway. I guess that long draught killed off the trees there in the Mt. Dora area. What a shame to lose that many. I saw Mt. Dora is building car washes, and a Millers Ale House too, along with the Dollar General.

    Sunday, May 21, 2023 Report this

  • MamaMia

    Typo correction: drought, sorry.

    Monday, May 22, 2023 Report this