Texas was hammered again by severe winter weather on February 1st and 2nd 2023. Unlike the more statewide “Snowmageddon” of 2021, this time the tree damage was not as widespread. Based on state disaster declarations, the worst of the damage occurred in 23 counties, including all of central Texas and extending intermittently northeast to the OK-AR border. In 2021, damage was mostly from freeze rather than breakage. This time the amount of limb and tree breakage was far worse in the Austin area, necessitating a more urgent clean-up response, versus the more gradual clean-up that occurred in 2021 as we waited to see what trees had survived.
Due to temps hovering right around freezing for two days, with a slow constant drizzle, central Texas had ice thicknesses up to three quarters of an inch. Countless limbs snapped throughout the day on February 1, and even more failed on the second as more ice accumulated. Although weather persons in Austin referred to it as the “worst ice storm since 2007” this oft-made statement left many a seasoned arborist around here scratching their heads. In 43 years of doing tree work in central Texas, I’ve never seen ice storm damage that came close.
According to Texas electric utility reps, half an inch of ice is right around the breaking point, literally, for trees. This of course depends on the species, and evergreens like live oak, Ashe juniper and TX mountain laurel were the worst hit in Central Texas. Based on my observations, cedar elm was the hardest hit deciduous species, with Arizona ash, red oak and crepe myrtle damage also common. Strangely, “self-pruning” pecans (don’t you love that term?) barely lost a twig, from what I saw.
Most of my clients rarely see storm damage, whether it be from ice or wind. This is of course because well maintained trees statistically experience far less storm damage. However, the severity of this event was exceptional in that even perfectly managed trees suffered extensive damage. My observations were that larger broken limbs (bigger than about 7 inches diameter) almost always had some decay which was almost always visibly associated with an old pruning wound. So it is vital to remember that pruning does cause injury, and especially if it is not done properly, that injury can lead to decay and failure years later.
So how should ice-damaged trees be cared for? Continue reading