States ready to assess forest damage after heavy storms

November 5, 2017

FILE - In this Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017, file photo, a father walks his child to a school bus at a temporary pick up location, in Freeport, Maine, where storm-toppled trees still made several roads impassable following Monday's storm. High winds brought town trees and limbs and spread debris that may block trails and make roads impassable after the recent storm. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Now that power has been mostly restored after a nasty rainstorm packing hurricane-force gusts, scientists are ready to take a look at the impact on forests.

The Maine Forest Service will use aircraft this week for a preliminary look to determine whether a more extensive damage assessment is needed.

The state’s top forestry health official said he’d be surprised if the damage from last week’s storm was anywhere near as severe as the ice storm of 1998, when entire stands of trees were flattened. But, there still could be extensive damage.

“From an infrastructure or personal misery point of view, this was very serious,” said Dave Struble, director of the forest health and monitoring division.

This time, it appears that most of the toppled trees were along roads, in backyards and other locations where they were more exposed to high winds, Struble said.

Many were surprised by the extent of outages caused by the storm with wind gusts topping 80 mph. At the peak, nearly 1.5 million homes and businesses lost power in the Northeast. A third of those power outages were in Maine where more than half the population was in the dark. By Sunday evening, utility crews had reduced the number of power outages to about 10,000.

The type of weather phenomenon that caused the damage is called bombogenesis, which is characterized by a sudden drop in barometric pressure, the National Weather Service said.

“It wasn’t all that different from a little hurricane,” Struble said.

The winds tumbled trees that had structural damage and uprooted others. Officials said there were several factors at play: The ground was waterlogged, tree roots were weakened by an earlier drought and winds blew from different directions.

“On the one hand, it did remove or ‘thin’ some of the vulnerable branches and trees by houses, power lines and roadways, so that these trees will not be broken or come down during a winter snow or ice storm,” said Lindsey Rustad, research ecologist in New Hampshire.

But, she added, the storm also could’ve weakened additional “hazard” trees that could fall this winter.

In Vermont, the biggest producer of maple syrup in the country, officials are assessing how much damage the wind storm wreaked on the state’s maple tree forests.

“I’ve heard from some folks who have had some significant damage but I’ve also talked to some other producers who really didn’t have anything of note happen in their sugarbushes,” said Matt Gordon, of the Vermont Maple Sugarmakers Association.

In Maine, the aircraft survey is the first step to sorting out the extent of the damage. Others states will be performing their own surveys, he said.

“We won’t know until we look,” Struble said.

Update hourly