“OH HOW THE MIGHTY ARE FALLEN”
Where to start? We’ve just experienced the worst ice storm for the area in recorded history.
Freezing rain is insidious – you’re helpless to do anything about it. The trees can’t seek shelter, there’s
nowhere to go – they just have to stand there and take it.
In my lifetime I remember probably three or four ice storms that caused some damage –
nothing, however, on the scale of this one. Trees over a century old (some two centuries) stand or lie
broken. Unlike a tornado or even a hurricane, the damage is much more widespread. Even the power
crews brought in for the cleanup and power line repairs remark about the devastation being akin to that
caused when Hugo hit near Charleston over twenty years ago. Noble trees like the Eisenhower Pine at
The Augusta National were victims. The old age of many of our city trees causes them to be brittle as
well as weakened by decay.
Because of my involvement with trees over a long period, especially in the area of our urban
forest, I’m naturally more sensitive to tree damage. One thing jumps out – evergreens are more
vulnerable to ice than deciduous trees but even they have suffered. While it’s fresh on my mind, I’ll
attempt to record some observations that might serve as an account to those who follow to know the
extent of the weather trauma that occurred in Augusta on the 12th
West and north of us, the temperature was a few degrees colder causing the precipitation to fall
in the form of sleet or snow instead of freezing rain. To the south and east, the temperature was slightly
warmer developing rain that did not freeze and cling to the leaves and branches.
Pine trees (primarily loblolly) broke or were uprooted by the excessive weight of the ice
accumulations. Live oaks were especially hard hit because of their heavily leaved canopies. Magnolias
with their broad evergreen leaves underwent extensive damage as did lesser species such as cherry
laurel, ligustrum, hollies, and various other evergreen shrubs. Deciduous trees fared much better
although many of them were destroyed by falling pine boughs – dogwoods in particular. Maples fared
very well as did ash, tulip poplar, hickory and beech, and the deciduous oaks: southern red oaks,
shumard, white oaks, (darlington, water, and live oaks being the exception). Black gum and Chinese
pistache likewise held up well as did southern red cedar. The most brittle hardwoods appear to be
various elm species (including other members of that family i.e. hackberry) as well as river birch The
make-up of climax forests tells us a lot about specie hardiness.
Close observation revealed that the first structural failure of trees occurred when there was
“included” bark – a term used when branches are more V-shaped and the union with the trunk has bark
in the crotch, unlike a strong union where limbs are an integral part of the fibers of the trunk. It has
been sad to note however that even live oaks (perhaps the sturdiest of all the oaks) with significant ice
build-up caused rupture of sound wood.
Freezing rain provides the perfect scenario for extensive property damage in addition to the
trees. When trees or large limbs fall, buildings, automobiles, and even people can suffer damage. Many
of the limbs that break don’t fall to the ground immediately – hanging in the trees creates a dangerous
and often deadly situation especially when wind gusts pick up as it did on Friday. Broken limbs might
fall for weeks after a storm. Arborists from far and wide are busy cleaning up the mess. Unfortunately,
would be “tree people” (untrained) show up to capitalize on the disaster and frequently gouge their
Many people, like myself, are hesitant to abandon a much loved but wounded landscape
tree. In many cases however one would be better served to swallow hard, remove the damaged tree,
and start anew with a healthy young plant that would last for other generations to enjoy. One thing
is certain – tall pine trees should not be the tree of choice for a residential lot. Deciduous trees that
have good structure and clean leaf-fall in autumn not only add beauty to the landscape but are far less
troublesome in the long run. What this community is going through is a post-graduate lesson on the
inadvisability of a monoculture. Variety will help sustain a viable landscape in spite of the onslaught of
Let’s pray that this once in a lifetime ice storm is several lifetimes from reoccurring.