Why Have So Many Trees Been Falling During Storms on Cape Cod?

Mar 20, 2018

 

Credit Sarah Tan / WCAI

Last week’s nor’easter covered some areas of Cape Cod with over a foot of snow, and left many without power for days. Power outages this time were mostly caused by an unusual number of roadside trees uprooting and falling over.


These falling trees have been the main culprit of the recent power outages, and this past nor’easter downed more trees than any previous storm this year. Department of Public Works director Dan Santos said that normally, his department gets a lot of calls about roads that need to be plowed, but not this time.

 

“We were getting tree calls one after the other one after the other and I’ve never seen anything like it and neither have others they found it remarkable the number of tree calls.”

 

Barnstable suffered some of the worst tree damage on the Cape during this past nor’easter. Over 200 trees fell on roads, and Barnstable’s tree clearing crew, led by arborist Jeremiah Pearson, have been working overtime since the day of the storm. Pearson described the scene from his truck as he drove out to a fallen tree in Cotuit

 

“We are heading to Coolidge street in Cotuit,” Pearson said. “I believe that is our last tree still blocking the road.”

 

During the storm, crews like his worked through the night to push trees to the side of the road to give power crews access. One reason the tree damage this time was so bad was because the ground was already soft from earlier storms. Pearson’s right hand man Mike White pointed out the window.  

 

“This is all water saturated soil, so those are all weakened soil structure and these trees will be more susceptible,” White said.

 

Both White and Pearson are certified arborists. On the Cape, they say the trees often fall straight over, roots up, instead of breaking in half. This is mostly because here, tree root systems are shallower.

 

“Especially street trees, they don’t have that much root system, there’s not that much root space for street trees and they get pounded on,” Pearson said. “They got three strikes against them, as soon as they’re planted.

 

They estimated it may be a few weeks to a month before all the trees that fell will be fully cleaned up, and White said they may be working through weekends, since they cover about 490 miles of road.

 

Santos said the strength of the last few storm systems have weakened a lot of trees too.

“The trees have had earlier wind events pushing them back and forth and the rain also loosens up the soil so it’s not holding on as tight,” he said. “And those earlier events and heavy wet snow so that combination of factors really contributed to so many trees going down.”

 

The good news is, that while the cape is expecting more rain and snow later in the week, Santos doesn’t think the tree damage will be as bad.

 

“Once we have a storm like the last one which comes in and clears out the weaklings, we’re probably in good shape for a while,” he said.

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