Terran's Tips

Lightning Protection for Your Trees

Happy New Year! This month’s Tree Tip was written and researched by the newest member of the Woodland Tree sales team, Emil Peter, ISA Certified Arborist #SO-6363A and Forester. He may be contacted directly via email with any questions related to this article or for more information on pricing or to see if your tree is a good candidate for a lightning protection system.

The holidays are winding down and everyone is thinking about the future. New Year’s resolutions have been made and the next big thing is spring. Ah, spring! With its wonderful warmer weather, sun shine, flowers coming up, trees breaking bud and turning green with leaves, spring is definitely one of the best seasons. Of course, with all the warming and greening comes wind, rain, thunder, and, most damaging to trees, lightning.

Now, we know that a lot of the exposure goes to the local church steeple or the golfer on the 18th green waving his putter in anger, but the truth is trees are the most frequent recipient of lightning strikes. Thousands of trees all over the world are struck everyday and lightning is a major devastator of trees. A typical lightning bolt contains about enough energy to power a 100 watt light bulb for just less than two months and it can all be delivered into your trees in an instant.

The most destructive way lightning causes damage to the tree is basically the same way a pot of water boils over on your stove. Water is heated to boiling until the pot it is in can no longer contain it. In trees, the energy from the lightning bolt is transferred down the trunk by the water in the tree. This water quickly heats, turns into steam, rapidly expanding and then quickly rupturing the cell walls until… BOOM! The tree splits, or worse yet, explodes in a shower of bark and wood on to your lawn or the 9th fairway. This is just one of the reasons you should never take shelter under a tree during a lightning storm.

Once the tree has been struck by lightning, the chances of its long-term survival are relatively slim. Some trees and tree species are more resilient and can survive lightning strikes better. However, the vast majority of trees will be candidates for removal in the near future. Most trees are not instantly killed by a lightning strike; the damage instead opens wounds which then provide easy access for insects and fungi that will eventually lead to the tree’s decline and eventual death. At this stage, removal of a large tree can costs thousands of dollars, not to mention the potential danger of having a tree struck by lightning, or parts of a tree, land on a house or other property.

This scenario can be significantly minimized by having our professional arborists examine your trees that are potentially at risk and possibly having a lightning protection system installed. A lightning protection system is essentially a lightning rod for your trees. There are few parts to this simple system and it is most commonly made up of a few aerial terminals for the entry points to the system, the down-lead cable which runs along the trunk, and then the ground or terminal rod which is buried some distance away from the trunk and the majority of the roots for the electricity to exit the system into the earth. The metal in a lightning protection system provides a much better conductor and thus an easier path for the electricity to follow instead of using the moisture in the tree trunk. The system directs the flow down the tree to the ground and away from potential targets. The best time to install a lightning protection system in your trees is in the fall and winter months, while the leaves are down, the tree is easier to access and spring storms are still a thing of the future.

Many people are unaware of the availability and relative ease of lightning protection for their trees, but the same basic system has been in use since the 1800’s. It has more recently only become more important to install these systems in our trees as our urban forest shrinks and larger, more meaningful, or intangibly beneficial trees become scarcer. Protecting these trees continues their added aesthetical value to your property and the community forest at large. As we strive to make the public more aware and more educated in the care and protection of trees, more individuals and businesses will come to see how better protected those trees that have deep sentimental and personal attachments or that are historically significant can be.

Three of the most common misconceptions of lightning protection systems are quickly dispelled with a few firm facts presented here:

  1. These systems do not attract the lightning and they will not keep a strike from occurring, but they do interrupt the bolt in between the cloud and the earth to conduct it away from the tree harmlessly.
  2. Lighting protection systems in trees will not serve to protect your house from lightning strikes, but they will be one added step in protecting your valuable trees.
  3. Lightning protection systems can last 20, 30, 40 years or more. With periodic maintenance checks, inspections, and minor repair and upkeep, your lightning protection system can serve to protect your trees from a century’s worth of storms. In fact, some systems in use today are well over 100 years old and still in complete working order.

Since not all trees are good candidates for a lightning protection system due to size, species, and other variables, our arborists will be happy to inspect your trees and determine the appropriate course of action as well as answer any questions you may have.

We want to help you enjoy your trees for as long as possible and eliminating the risk of lightning is another great step to extending their benefits for years to come.

If you need any assistance with your trees, contact the experts at Woodland Tree Service. Email joanna@woodlandtree.com or call us at (901) 309-6779.

Posted by Mark Allen at 13:51