A bright flash of light and then a massive “crack”—lightning just struck one of the trees in your yard! Lightning striking a tree can be a frightening experience, especially if it is one close to your home. The key is to know what to do if that bolt of lightning just happens to find one of your trees.
Your first inclination may be to run outside and assess the damage, but unless the tree poses an imminent danger to your home or family, it is not advisable to approach it. While you may have heard the old adage that “lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same place”, it actually CAN strike the same tree, so you don’t want to be near it just in case. Also, the ground around the tree can still be experiencing an electrical charge after it has been hit. If the tree is on fire, immediately call the fire department; if the fire is containable, you can try to keep it from spreading to other trees or structures by applying ample amounts of water to the tree from a safe distance.
Tall trees are especially susceptible to lightning strikes, so if towering trees are indigenous to your home’s region, it is important to prune and trim the trees. By maintaining your trees, you can remove dead or decaying branches that may catch fire if struck by lightning. Also, you can install a lightning protection system that consists of several copper cables affixed to the tree’s upper branches and on the ground around the tree. The electricity from a lightning strike is diverted to the copper cables and away from the tree.
If a tree does get hit by a bolt of lightning, the water inside is turned to gas, causing the structure’s outer layers explode, oftentimes spewing chunks of wood into the air. Surprisingly, some trees escape harm. However, many trees are instantly destroyed; some survive but may be prone to various diseases. It is key to check the areas that were struck to ensure the damage does not spread and the tree can be saved. Enlisting the assistance of a tree specialist is advised, as he or she will be able to determine the extent of the damage and if the tree will ultimately survive. If the tree has been damaged beyond repair, it should be removed so it does not threaten the health of your other trees. Once again, an arborist can help with tree removal.
There are times when lightning may strike a tree, but the result is not readily visible to the naked eye. A tree may appear normal but can slowly start to die due to inner damage. You may notice decaying branches, a slit in the tree’s trunk, missing chunks of bark, or even burn marks that indicate the tree may have been struck by lightning without your knowledge. Having a tree specialist, an arborist, assess the tree’s liklihood of survival.
After you have discovered that a tree has been hit by a lightning bolt, and you have consulted an arborist, there are steps to take to ensure the tree’s recovery. Trees that have been injured need special attention. In addition to considerable watering, ample amounts of fertilizer will help to stimulate new growth. Keep a close eye on the tree and make sure to trim it back, removing dead branches. Healthy branches will be given the opportunity to grow and the tree may make a slow recovery.
When lightning strikes, it can be a frightening experience. When it hits a tree close to home, it can be especially alarming. While you never know where lightning will strike, knowing what to do when it hits your tree can help keep you safe and possibly save the life of the tree.