On October 29, 2011, those of us living in the northeast experienced a unique, and for some, deadly, event. That evening, several hours into the pre-Halloween storm, we huddled together in our homes, with doors closed and windows shut, and listened to the cracking sounds of trees splitting and falling all around us. Many of us had to listen in the dark because the trees and branches took out the power lines as they fell. The sounds continued throughout that long night as the wet, heavy snow accumulated outside. The next morning we emerged from our houses and discovered a different world.
A picturesque snow blanketed the landscape. It would have made a fitting scene for a Hallmark card were it not for the devastation beneath the snow cover. Trees that stood tall and proud for decades had barricaded roads and lay across cars, houses, and even swimming pools. Many others, still standing, split down the middle, or appeared like scarecrows bending over with broken and twisted arms. The roofs of houses, business and sheds caved in. As the snow melted in the bright sunlight, the full extent of the damage emerged. Many towns postponed or completely cancelled Halloween festivities and schools remained closed for days. At its peak, almost two million people were without power and some remained that way for more than a week. Eight people lost their lives. Meteorologists had warned us of the impending storm, but it was so early in the otherwise mild season that nothing in our experience prepared us for such widespread destruction.
Governors appealed to the federal government for aid. Connecticut was particularly hard hit. Governor Dannel Malloy said hundreds of state roads were partially blocked or completely closed, and he called the power outages the worst in the state’s history. The President declared a state of emergency for the area, which cleared the way for storm crews from across the country to descend upon the northeast for the massive cleanup work. Within weeks, giant container and bucket trucks were crisscrossing the roads and highways. I responded to a call for local citizens to monitor the cleanup effort. After several days working in Simsbury and Granby, I spent most of my time working in my home town of Southington. I learned how to recognize many of the hidden dangers the storm had created. I also leaned which dangers the cleanup crews would remove and some that would remain behind.
Much of the damage caused by the storm was easy to recognize, like trees that were leaning against buildings or other trees. But high up near the tree tops, were other dangers that were much harder to spot. I spent much of my time with Kevin, a tree surgeon from Kansas, who worked a bucket truck with a 70-foot boom. The primary focus of Kevin’s work was to eliminate “hangers”: branches that has snapped but had not completely separated from their limbs. In accordance with the guidelines of the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA), workers like Kevin found and removed hangers over two inches in diameter that endangered public access areas like streets and sidewalks. They were strictly prohibited from working on private property.
My job was to ensure that the debris taken met the FEMA criteria. At the beginning, that led to interesting and sometimes spirited discussions with Kevin. First, he pointed out how to spot the hangers. While that might seem obvious, looking up at tree tops 50 feet high or more, it was anything but. We searched for branches that suddenly veered off at an odd angle, or that had clusters of leaves that looked like a bunch of grapes on the vine. After a time, I got as good as Kevin was at recognizing them. Where we didn’t agree early on was on the size.
Kevin would point to a hanger and say in his mid-western accent, “That’s one up there, Chuck.” At the beginning, I would often look up and say that the branch was less than two inches in diameter, so we needed to skip it. Kevin would insist that it was larger than it looked from the ground and I would end by saying that he could cut it, but if it weren’t the minimum size, his company would not be paid for it. What was most fascinating, and alarming, was how many of these branches were three, four, and even five inches or more across. Many weighed over 20 pounds and some were so heavy they had to be chain sawed in order to lift them. Occasionally, if a hanger fell on a lawn area, it would embed itself several inches into the ground.
As I pointed out earlier in this article, the storm workers were prohibited from removing hangers from private property. While driving around this spring, I could still spot hangers sitting at the top of tall trees. Many of these trees are in the yards around people’s houses, yards where adults cross and children play. These branches are damaged. Someday they will wither and die, and eventually, they will fall.
Here is a suggestion. Look around your own property and check your trees for hangers. (If your trees have already sprouted their leaves, you may have to wait until fall to see them clearly). You may be surprised at what you see. If you suspect you have hangers over heavily used areas that might be dangerous, consider getting a tree professional to investigate and, if the hangers pose a threat, get a quote for removing them. Be safe! This is work best left to professionals with the proper equipment and experience. To avoid being overcharged, get multiple quotes and select the lowest qualified bidder.
Weather is always fascinating and can often be unpredictable. With reasonable precautions however, we can minimize the chances that will also be dangerous.
NOTE: To see the original article, including photos, go to WXedge.com, team WXedge, click on me and look for the article with the same name.