Do you have “problem trees” in your yard? How to tell if a tree could be dangerous during a storm

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - As Irma continues to weaken, the storm's wind speed decreases too.

But the storm's destruction around Florida, and along its path, are unmistakable.

This includes downed trees.

As rain and winds picked up in the Tennessee Valley Monday evening, we talked to arborist Marc Byers about the risks to Huntsville yards.

Byers is Huntsville's Forestry/Horticulture supervisor. He works with the Green Team to administer the tree ordinance and often cleans up debris from trees on city property after storms. He has worked as the city arborist for 10 years, and had a nursery before that. Byers knows trees.

"When trees are in leaf, we have more damage than in winter because the leaves act as sails," he explained.

We asked him what may be a sign of a "problem tree" or vulnerable tree to take care of before the next storm, so you can protect your own property, or even your life, from falling branches.

He said the major damage is from issues structurally related to trees: poor root structure and poor branching structure.

"Primarily where we see damage is when we have two larger branches with a poor union and they split, and a large branch falls," he said.

He said declining root structure, including recent cuts to roots, limited root volume, and other issues can predispose a tree to blow over. But it may be hard to recognize.

"The history of a tree, where a sewer was repaired or a new water line was run, irrigation trenches, new concrete patios, those types of things, damage root systems. But it often takes years for that to affect the tree and it starts to come down."

A tree's root system can also be compromised if it's the last one standing after you have cut down the others around it, said Byers.

Decay is another thing that can make a tree vulnerable.

"Look for fungal growths on the tree. Mushrooms, essentially, growing out of the side of a tree, are a bad sign," he explained. "That can indicate interior fungal decay, which makes a tree weaker."

If you see these issues in your trees, Byers said you don't need to be immediately alarmed.  He explained that whether a tree is hazardous depends on the amount of things it could fall on, or near. He said often this is site-dependent.

While there's not much you can do while what's left of Irma rolls through, he said you can take precautions before other storms this season including calling an arborist.

If you are considering taking a tree down, Byers recommended weighing this: "Is it worth the cost versus the potential damage the tree might cause?"

If you do decide to have a tree trimmed or removed by a professional, Byers said you should make sure the person you choose is licensed and insured.