But the risk of tree damage during storms can be reduced if homeowners think ahead, according to Jason Miesbauer, research arborist at The Morton Arboretum in Lisle.
An inspection by a qualified arborist can reveal flaws such as cracks or rot that would make a tree vulnerable to high winds. An arborist also can prune a tree to remove problematic branches or wood that has died and become brittle and prone to breaking. "Most mature trees will have some dead wood," Miesbauer says. He recommends that large trees be inspected and pruned every three to five years.
The most important pruning, however, should take place long before a tree gets large. "A good way to reduce the severity of storm damage to a tree when it's mature is to prune it properly when it's young," Miesbauer says.
A young tree should be trained to have a strong central leader: one branch that heads skyward, like a tent pole. The crown should be balanced, so the weight of branches will be evenly distributed. Branches that cross or rub on each other should be removed.
If a tree has been damaged by a storm's high winds, Miesbauer says, have it assessed by an arborist who is certified by the International Society of Arboriculture (isa-arbor.com). Has the trunk been harmed, or just the branches? Is the tree leaning? It may be possible to tip a small tree back up and stake it, he says, but a large tree that is leaning will probably have to come down.
Major tree work should be done by professionals who are trained to know how different species need to be pruned to get rid of hazards and direct future growth. To find an arborist certified by the ISA, go to treesaregood.org. It's a good idea to establish a relationship with a tree care company before a storm hits, rather than trying to find one in an emergency.
Beth Botts is a staff writer at The Morton Arboretum in Lisle (mortonarb.org).