Just thinking about the power of lightning can boggle the mind: it’s an electrical charge of 100 million volts striking at a temperature of more than 30,000 degrees Celsius. It can make for a very beautiful show, especially when you’re watching it at a distance, but this force of nature can just as easily come to you. If you have tall trees on your property, it’s very possible they could attract and be struck by lightning.
Lightning striking a tree can kill parts of the tree, or even the entire tree, turning it into a safety hazard. Just because it’s tall, doesn’t mean you can’t protect it!
What Happens When Lightning Strikes?
You probably don’t need reminding, but trees are often the tallest points on most properties. This makes them vulnerable to lightning, especially if they’re growing solitary in open areas, but they can still attract lightning if their in crowded areas next to houses, telephone poles, and hydro poles. Their complex nature also makes them a unique hazard, too; when they’re damaged, it can sometimes be tough to notice, and branches that have been killed could fall later.
How the tree lives can be affected by lightning. Because of the extreme heat, sap will boil, water in the tree will turn to steam, and the moist tissue can explode. If it’s still dry before the storm, it can split open, catch fire, and/or die; if it’s soaked from rain, it’s possible the lightning will just travel along the bark, causing little damage.
When a tree has been struck, the spots that have been affected make them susceptible to insect infestation, rot, and other diseases. It’s important to know whether your tree can be saved; it might prevent infestation!
Checking If Your Tree’s Been Struck
If you aren’t aware of the signs, a tree that’s been struck by lightning can just look like a tree. This doesn’t mean it isn’t weak, or doesn’t have dead branches that could fall later; it’s just to show that a tree is a resilient organism, and won’t always split and die as soon as it’s been struck.
If you’ve moved to the property, or a thunderstorm has passed through your area (and you slept right through it), check out the trees and look for these warning signs:
- The bark of your trees. If there’s a long streak missing, it probably means the tree has been struck. One strip missing isn’t a death sentence; more than one, and the tree isn’t likely to survive much longer.
- Pay attention to the branches – if some are brown, or there aren’t any leaves on them, these branches are dead. Remove them as soon as you can.
- Large chunks of tissue have been removed.
Protecting Your Tree From Lightning
There’s a way to protect a tree if it’s especially susceptible to lightning strikes, though it is rather costly. If a tree is in a sensitive area, or if it has special significance, it might be worth the expense though!
This protection involves installing a heavy copper cable that leads down to copper ground rods driven beyond the tree’s drip line. Having them installed can be quite the expenditure, but it is an inconspicuous and reliable system. Don’t try installing a makeshift one yourself with aluminum or any cheaper metals fastened into the tree, as that can lead the lightning through the sides of the tree.
If in doubt, or if you’re sure a tree has been killed or made unsafe due to lightning, give us a call! Our trained arborists will know whether or not it needs to be pruned, or removed entirely.