‘Treemageddon’ storm shifts to Arbor Day

A giant spruce tree knocked down by the Nov. 17 windstorm in Spokane. (Photo by Tim Kohlhauff, WSU)

By Linda Weiford, WSU News

SPOKANE, Wash. – Spokane will observe a bittersweet National Arbor Day this Friday, April 29. Not only is the ponderosa pine its official tree, but the city has been declared a Tree City USA for 12 years in a row by the National Arbor Foundation.

But the city that trumpets its green suffered a big loss five months ago when a historic windstorm wiped out an estimated 1,900 of its pine, spruce and fir trees.

Call it the post-traumatic-storm jitters, but some residents are wondering if they should be cutting down more trees.

Tim Kohlhauff

“From what we and other arborists are hearing, people are worried that another big windstorm would bring tall trees crashing down, even if they’re perfectly healthy,” said certified arborist Tim Kohlhauff of Washington State University’s extension program in Spokane County.

The near-hurricane-force winds that pummeled the region on Nov. 17 sent entire trees and large snapped-off limbs crashing into homes and cars, blocking roads and severing power lines.

“Understandably, the storm left folks nervous, but if their trees are healthy, we’re pretty much advising that they not be cut down,” said Kohlhauff.

The goodness of green

Which is why, with Arbor Day just a few days away, he and WSU urban forestry specialist Steve McConnell are trying to get the word out:

Steve McConnell

“If you take down a healthy tree, you lose not one benefit, but many,” said McConnell, adding that a growing number of studies show that green is good for us in a multitude of ways, whether in wilderness or backyards.

Stumps where trees used to be and leftover branch debris are sad reminders of the sturdy, reliable sources of beauty – and benefits – that November’s windstorm took away, he said.

“Research is confirming what many of us know intuitively – that people feel better when they’re around trees, emotionally and physically,” he said.

Besides aesthetic value, trees provide shade to keep us cool. They increase property values, provide oxygen, filter air pollution and store carbon in their wood, he explained. And, of course, they provide homes to wildlife.

Wind event, not ‘treemageddon’

Because downed trees, especially taller ones, were major contributors to the storm’s damage, “I think a lot of people tend to view it as a tree event instead of a wind event, a sort of ‘treemageddon,’” said McConnell. “What’s important to remember is that most of Spokane’s 100,000 or so trees pulled through just fine.”

The majority of trees that didn’t pull through were ponderosas, followed by spruces and firs, according to post-storm data compiled by the City of Spokane.

“The wind path happened to strike a lot of tall trees,” said Kohlhauff. “Those located on sites directly exposed to the wind seemed to be affected more severely. Site was a factor more than height.”

For residents concerned that a similar monster blast will rip through the Spokane area, “November’s windstorm was bad, but fortunately, it was also fairly rare,” said WSU meteorologist Nic Loyd.

So instead of taking down a tree, Kohlhauff and McConnell are encouraging people to plant one on Arbor Day.


Tim Kohlhauff, WSU Extension arborist, 509-477-2172, tkohlhauff@spokanecounty.org
Steve McConnell, WSU Extension forester, 509-477-2175, smcconnell@spokanecounty.org
Linda Weiford, WSU News, 509-335-7209, linda.weiford@wsu.edu