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Experts Warn Of Dangers During Ice Storm Clean Up

Chelsea Stanfield / KOSU
Tree limbs cover a front yard in Perkins, Okla.

Tree clean-up is on the minds of many Oklahomans following an early-season ice storm that affected a large portion of the state.

Keith Reed, the horticulture educator for Oklahoma State University Payne County Extension Office, said when this storm was being talked about last week, the first thought was that all the leaves were still on the trees.

“Timing really hurt us one this one,” Reed said. “The trees didn’t have a chance.”

Leaves still being on trees meant more surface area for ice to cling to, he added.

First and foremost, Reed said, people need to be cautious of electrocution in a situation like this. “You simply do not know if a power line is live or dead,” he said. “When you’re looking at a massive, tangled, icy tree it’s impossible to know if a power line is in there.”

Another safety measure to take in a situation like this is to avoid trying to do anything to a tree while it still has ice on it. Avoid trying to remove ice from a limb by whacking it. You aren’t helping your tree to get ice off and you are only endangering yourself.

“People tend to grossly underestimate the weight of tree limbs,” Reed said. “That’s just magnified when it’s got all that ice on it.”

Once you’ve waited for all the ice to melt, you can begin to clean up yourself. But, Reed cautions people to not exceed their own capabilities. Only do things you can do from the ground and do not get on a ladder or climb a tree to remove limbs.

“When a tree is damaged in an ice storm, invisible damage also occurs,” Reed said. “After the ice storm and the tree returns to some sort of normal shape, people may not realize the tree is cracked or split [internally].”

Reed said time is an unfortunate factor of tree damage.

“Everywhere a tree has cracked or splintered may not be enough to kill a tree, but the damage also isn’t going to go away,” Reed said. “A wound can fester for several years.”

A storm like this one can compromise the integrity of trees for years to come. This is why it is so important to hire a professional arborist to assess the trees on your property. Reed said he can’t imagine getting an arborist out to your property anytime soon though.

“The damage has already happened,” Reed said. “In the short term, don’t feel like you need to get someone to your house in the next day or two because it’s not going to make a difference in your tree’s long-term health.”

Reed explained that when a limb is torn off, the exposed surface area is much larger than when a limb is cleanly taken off by a chainsaw. Each damaged limb offers more opportunity for insects and disease to enter the tree, Reed said.

“If you cut that limb off cleanly, straight across, the tree has a much better chance of healing itself,” Reed said.

Sometimes a tree will be so damaged, it must be completely removed, but that’s dependent on the species of a tree and how far down the tree the damage goes.

“Big fractures that go down the trunk means the tree will most likely have to be removed,” Reed said.

One of six horticulture educators within OSU Extension Offices in Oklahoma, Reed is encouraging his clients to email photos and any questions they have when it comes to tree health. He said if you can’t get an arborist to your property, try reaching out to your county extension office and ask if they can provide input. This article, provided by OSU Extension, contains helpful information.

Reed said with all the help being offered right now by neighbors or people trying to make a buck, it's really important to make sure you’re hiring a professional arborist, not only because they are knowledgeable but also because they have insurance.


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Chelsea Ferguson joined KOSU in March 2022 as Membership Specialist.
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