Lightning. The ultimate outdoor pest...

Old 11-10-05, 07:09 PM
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Lightning. The ultimate outdoor pest...

Not sure if this is the correct place to post this question but here goes...

How can one tell for sure if a tree has taken a lightning hit?

There is a medium sized tree in my back yard which is relatively close to many other bigger trees that has been split right down the middle from it's natural fork, down about 4 feet before the split ends.
This happened after a thunderstorm night before last. I know for a fact that this tree was fine before the storm as I had just looked at it the day before thinking about how I would trim it while the leaves were off it.
This just doesn't look like wind damage to me. The tree has been otherwise healthy until this.
We had one extremely very loud crack of thunder with brilliant white flash which had to have been a very close hit during that storm.
This neighborhood seems to be a popular target for lightning with 3 trees having been taken out in the last 2 years within 500 feet of my home.

Any thoughts or experiences anyone can share on this?
Old 11-16-05, 01:19 PM
Join Date: Aug 2000
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Most lightning damage appears on trees as a groove coming down one side of the tree in the bark. Sometimes trunks and branches are splintered. Sometimes damage is not evident until years later because roots were steam heated during the strike. No one can predict where lightning will strike. Some say trees in damp soil are more prone. Others claim certain species are more prone: maple, ash, tulip tree, sycamore, poplar, oak, elm, pine, spruce and hemlock. Tall, lone trees appear to be more prone. Evergreens, too, because needles collect much moisture during storms are often struck by lightning. Most often lightning damage can not be repaired. It's always best to wait until the next growing season before taking any action to see if the tree tends to be holding its own. Severely damaged trees and branches should be removed for safety reasons.

Trees with forked trunks are often weak and succumb to high winds during storms. The trunks tend to split right down the middle.
Old 12-19-05, 01:51 PM
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I have had several large cherry trees hit by lighting. One had pieces of bark blown 40 or 50 YARDS away from it! Others, almost no noticeable damage. Usually parts of the tree are dead the next growing season.
Old 01-11-06, 07:23 PM
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Several different environmental factors can cause limb breakage.
A weak fork, wind, lightning, sudden limb drop and even snow and ice.
A weak fork is the angle between the branch and the trunk, it is normally greater than 45 degrees in most species. If the angle is smaller than this the bark is sometimes trapped between the branch and the trunk, preventing the wood from growing together at that point. This weakens the branch itself, as the branch and trunk increase in length, the additonal width causes the fork to split at the weak junction. Therefore large portions of the tree may fall. Some trees that develop weak forks break more easily than others because of their growth habits. Branches may also fall during high winds especially in areas where there are tornados, hurricanes and the like.. Usually limbs are weakened by injury, insects or disease. If this happened during a thunderstorm, although possible it being struck it sounds more like wind. If it were lightning there would be evidence of an in and out location. A solution is if the break is a split or if a third of the bark at the break is intact the fracture can be bolted back together. If less than a third of the bark is intact or if the branch has fallen off the tree, prune the remaining. To prevent further damage brace or cable the tree. If the tree can be saved it would be advisable to to prune back some of the branches to reduce the wind load. If its not possible to re-attach the damaged limb, you can wait till spring to see if it survives,if not then for safety reasons, remove the tree. If you do any major pruning the area should be painted with pruners paint in order to seal the wound to prevent disease. I had a Norway Maple, same thing happened about 6 years ago, I came home one day after a storm and found half the tree in the farm field nextdoor, we trimmed the damaged area as much as we could then painted the exposed area with tree paint, the tree has since grown around the damaged area and is healing well itself. It was about 20 years old.
Good Luck!

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