Monsoons here in Arizona could never be described as mild – they are thunderous, intense, impressive, and dangerous – but not mild.
The sideways winds, the outpouring of rain, the flash floods, and the deafening thunder are all trademark signs of this unique season in the desert. The lightning, however, is often the image that sticks with people. During just one storm this past year, there were 35,000 lightning flashes, and over 4,000 reported lightning strikes.
Most everyone knows the danger that lightning can impart to humans, and the importance of taking cover indoors during a storm. Trees, however, don’t have the option to hide from these electric currents, and their tall stature can mean that they often get struck during a storm. The sap and moisture inside of trees further attract electricity, making them a better conductor than the air around them.
When Lightning Hits a Tree
A lightning bolt can be extremely hot - up to 54 THOUSAND degrees Fahrenheit – or about six times hotter than the sun! So you might think that if something that hot hits a tree, the tree would burn up immediately. Well, it depends how much moisture is in and on the tree when it is struck, what kind of tree it is, how healthy it is, and more.
If the outer layer of bark is soaked from the monsoon rains, the lightning might travel outside the tree into the ground, resulting in minimal damage.
If, however, it reaches the inside of the tree, water in the tree’s cells can begin to boil. The steam from the boiling water can explode, cracking bark off from the tree, which can look like an explosion.
If moisture is more concentrated deep within the tree, like with some diseased or rotting trees, the force of the lightning can cause the whole tree to explode, with pieces of the tree flying everywhere after a lightning strike.
How to Tell if Lightning Has Struck Your Tree
- It’s on fire
- It has shattered pieces of bark
- There are charred areas of the trunk
- Some signs are internal and vary by the type of tree. Contact an arborist if you suspect your tree has been struck.
Will My Tree Survive if it’s Been Struck by Lightning?
All trees will be stressed after being struck by lightning, so prepare to give your tree a little extra care for a while.
Prune out any of the damaged or burnt branches and remove hanging pieces of bark. You might want to consider fertilizing the injured tree to ensure it’s receiving enough nutrients to recover.
Keep an eye on the tree for the next two to six months, checking for any signs of tree stress. After that, corrective pruning may be necessary. Keep in mind that often it’s not the lightning that kills the tree, but disease or pests that take advantage of the injury and move in. So keep your tree watered, fertilized (if necessary), and work with a professional arborist on a plant health care treatment that will prevent insects and diseases as much as possible.
If the damage was not too intensive and if the trees are properly taken care of, lightning-struck trees can survive for many years, and some have even survived being stuck multiple times.
It’s Easier to Prevent Lightning Strikes Than to Treat Them
What’s that saying? “Prevention is better than cure?” The same applies to trees and lightning. If you have a tree that is vulnerable to being struck by lightning, or a particularly valuable tree, you might want to invest in a lightning protection system.
Lightning Kills More Than Trees
“When thunder roars, head indoors,” is what the National Weather Service advises. And not without cause: lightning kills dozens of people just in the United States each year, and it often can be prevented. Review these safety tips and know how to keep you and your family safe. While the majority of lightning strikes in Arizona occur during monsoon season, lightning can strike during any month of the year – and it doesn’t need to be proceeded by rain.
Contact Titan Tree Care today for a free quote for an inspection.