On Thursday after work, I arrived home to a huge branch off a tree. It was raining and I’d heard we were supposed to get 4 inches of rain in one afternoon, but I hadn’t heard anything about thunderstorms. My first thought was the guy we’d hired to trim all of the trees did a crappy job and I wanted to get my money back if a huge branch could fall over because of some rain and wind.
Thankfully, Liesl was inside all day and Kaiser was at his weekly puppy day care (he goes every Thursday so Liesl can relax from having her face being bitten/ pounced on all the time) so neither dog was in danger of the branch falling on them– I don’t even want to think about what could have happened if I left them outside that day.
Upon inspection of the tree itself, I noticed the top part of the break was charred and black. I looked at the fallen branch and noticed the top of its break was also charred and black. That’s when I realized it wasn’t just rain and wind that made this branch fall over– it had been struck by lightning!
(In the above photo, we still have big stumps of a cedar tree we had to cut down because it was rotting from the inside. The stumps we saved are not rotting. Well, yet anyway. We don’t know what to do with the cedar stumps yet but if you have any good ideas, let us know! They don’t make the best firewood and we want to use them creatively…)
We are SO lucky the branch just touched the garage and doesn’t appear to have damaged it, because let me tell you– ain’t no room in our budget to redo the garage right now! The fence may have to be repaired in a few places but I can’t tell because of the branches. David gets home from a business trip later this morning so hopefully he’ll be able to assess the damage. We did lose our picnic table (smashed to smithereens!) and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that our Big Green Egg, which we had moved to behind the garage temporarily, is okay… those things are really sturdy so we might be lucky.
When we first moved to this area of Charlottesville called Ivy, two of my colleagues at work who grew up locally said Ivy always gets lightning strikes and suggested we use surge protectors for all the big things we have plugged in in our home. I thought they were half-joking (but I bought the surge protectors anyway, knowing I’d jinx myself if I didn’t). Guess they were dead serious!
Up next on the list? Call a tree doctor to see what we can do to make sure this doesn’t shock that gorgeous walnut too much into not being healthy anymore. Oh, and get rid of the giant branch in our yard. That’s going to be a fun “welcome home” for David to arrive to!
4 thoughts on “Lightning Better Not Strike Twice”
So,it’s just an idea – but why not save the stumps to use as seating around a future fire pit? Or save for your kids to play on!
Saw your episode of House Hunters tonight and took a chance you might blog your restoration work so started googling. I am so glad my instincts were right. The house is so wonderful and charming. I was rooting for you to choose it the whole time. I having been reading though for a couple hours now. It is looking wonderful and I am so impressed with your ingenuity and the amount of work you are doing on such modest budgets. Proof positive that you can have what you want with out spending thousands upon thousands of dollars. What I loved best is that you have vision. I never enjoy the episodes where people only want all the current trendy stainless, granite and such.
I hope it is okay to continue to follow your journey to restore your little piece of history. It is so beautiful. I agree completely with the sellers agent. Your little farm house did breath a sigh of relief and joy knowing it had a new family to love it. Congratulations on your blessing. I thinking waiting to find out the gender is wonderful. My sisters did this as well and I was present for all 5 of their births. There is nothing lime that moment when you here “it’s a …”
Oh thank you for all the wonderful compliments! Your post really made my day (if not week!). Please follow along as more things happen– I’ll be motivated knowing someone as supportive as you is reading!
Thanks again, Lynne
Faced with the evidence you found when you examined the tree, it’s not unreasonable to conclude that lightening was the cause of the branch coming down. Chances are pretty good though that what really caused it to split was that is was a narrow y-shaped fork in the tree and not lightening.
The tree looks like some variety of ash from the photos. It may be some sort of hickory or there is a slight chance that it’s pecan, but mostly likely white ash. Unquestionably not walnut. There are a few structural details about ash that make it easy to split. It is ring-porous with relatively small medullary rays. That means that each year it produces two distinct growth rings, one is a relative weak ring of very porous growth, the other is much more dense. Those rings are composed of long fibrous tubes that extend vertically and carry sap etc. between the leaves and the roots. Medullary rays are a different type of fibers that grow in a radial fashion from the center of the tree towards the bark. In some trees (eg. beech) they are large and strong and help bind the other fibers in such a way as to reduce the likelihood of a lengthwise split. Ash has them, but they are small.
Imagine now that you took a straw broom and turned it upside down. If you tried to slide a butterknife into the end to split the straws apart you could easily do it to the point where it was sewn together. The same knife would have a very difficult time cutting across the straws. A tree has pretty much the same fibrous structure but 70-80 feet or more of it. In the case of a ring-porous species every porous ring is pretty weak and the fibers there are especially easy to separate. The medullary rays would perform the same role as the sewing on the broom and hold it together. Ash doesn’t have them though.
If a tree forks, two bundles of fibers go in different directions with nothing to really hold them together where they diverge. As they continue to grow and the forks each increase in diameter, the fibers on the top side never really knit together. You can see that in your tree. This is not the same situation as a branch growing from a main trunk. In that case, the trunk fibers grow straight up and branch’s fibers grow straight out. The branch then ends up being socketed into the trunk much like a mortise and tenon joint in woodworking. That is very strong, and usually stronger the wider the branching angle.
What probably happened with this tree is that a branch end was damaged many years ago and it forked. Ash has an opposite rather than alternate branching pattern which can easily lead to that. Over the years the end didn’t heal completely and disease set in. A split developed and that disease spread along the split which produced the blackened wood surfaces. The split was stopped by the branch that is visible just below the black part. It ran horizontally across the trunk, stopped the split and held the tree together. Rising sap and new spring growth greatly increased the weight of the branch and then a wind came along to be the straw that broke the ash’s back. It then fell.
I have actually witnessed two trees being hit by lightening. It is pretty dramatic and literally explosive. I’ll be happy to never see that again. In both cases the branches that were hit exploded into small widely scattered pieces. In both cases the path the lightening took to the ground ripped a wide swath of the bark off of the tree all the way to the roots. This guy has a description of that and a picture. https://www.austintreeexperts.com/blog/tree-struck-by-lightning-what-a-lightening-strike-really-looks-like/
So, a lot to digest, but for a reason. You can’t really do anything about lightening (with certainty or within a tight budget). You can do things about trees. Since you live among a bunch of trees, it would really pay for you guys to learn as much as you can about them, how to identify them, what to look for in terms of safety for branches like that one. Just like you can with construction people, you can hire tree people but they are all expensive with the best and most in demand being the most expensive. You might not want to hire the most expensive, so although you should respect whoever you hire, a “trust but verify” approach would be wise. You can’t do that if you don’t take the time to learn about all of the new things in your life and to be more analytical about what you encounter as your adventure progresses. That is for better or for worse the job we shoulder when we take on huge tasks with a moderate budget. That’s why I know about trees myself. And plumbing nightmares. And weird mysterious rotten wood things that seem to be important but I’m not sure how on earth to repair.
Best of luck with it all. I’m still waiting for the rest of the arched doorway saga.
BTW, the cedar is probably spruce although it might be fir or even pine. Photo quality and lack of leaves makes it hard to tell for sure. None of those are a good primary firewood, but if dried all are great used in small amount to start fires. Cedar is too. Those pieces will mostly be difficult to split because of the embedded branches, but let it dry off the ground until fall and it will be pretty doable. Use sparingly and only to start a fire or in a briskly burning fire. That means no smoldering overnight in a woodstove in particular. It won’t last overnight and will deposit too much resin in the chimney.