- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 21, 2003

Even some of the strong aren’t surviving the rain.

Maples, oaks and elms in the Washington area have toppled from the nearly constant spring rain, much to the frustration of residents and workers.

“People are losing trees, and they are upset,” said Dan Bauer of Care for Trees, a tree-removal company that works primarily with private property owners in Virginia and Maryland. He has removed 14 trees in the past two weeks.

No property-damage reports have been made to county officials in Virginia and Maryland, but private contractors have responded to an increased number of emergency tree-removal calls.

Average rainfall for May was about 2 inches above normal in the Washington area, and the trend has continued into June. Since January, 30.47 inches of precipitation have fallen at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, compared with an average 19.16 inches.

The moisture in the ground is loosening the soil around the tree, and the leaves are in full bloom, making it easier for a gust of wind to knock over even a healthy tree, said Mr. Bauer, a botanist.

“The healthier the tree, the stronger the root,” he said, “but with the amount of saturation and wind, there is little residents can do as far as prevention.”

More than 90 trees in the District have fallen in the past two weeks. Half of those were on private property and came down on public ground. As long as the wet weather continues, more are expected to block streets and damage property, said Bill Rice, spokesman for the D.C. Department of Transportation, the agency in charge of removing toppled trees from city streets.

“Basically, it’s a function of weather and time of year,” Mr. Rice said.

District officials have not calculated how much money has been spent repairing damage, and the city is waiting for bills to come back from tree-removal contractors.

“The amount of damage can only be estimated,” said Barbara Childs-Pear, deputy director of the D.C. Emergency Management Agency, “but we don’t have any solid figures yet.”

The agency provides help for families who have been displaced and works with the Red Cross to provide food as well as temporary housing. Some relief came Tuesday to families forced out of their homes because of severe storm damage.

“We had some property managers call and tell us that there are some vacant apartments that can be given to a few of the families,” Mrs. Childs-Pear said.

One resident of Anacostia said a tree fell on a neighbor’s car.

“We were told that the electricity would be out for three days,” D’Andrea Waters said.

Although the electricity came back in an hour, she believes that some neighborhoods, such as Anacostia, don’t get as much city attention and that communication to residents is lacking.

“It depends on the area you live in,” Mrs. Waters said. “If you live in an upscale neighborhood, they usually try to fix the problem first.”

Mr. Rice said certain areas of the city feel the effects of rain and wind more than others.

“For some reason, the weather pattern seems to hit harder in the Northeast and Southeast residential areas,” Mr. Rice said.

Trees in the city are more susceptible to bad weather than suburban trees because of soil moisture and uprooting; they are more exposed and typically have shallower roots than trees in a more natural setting. Construction damage near the tree also can reduce the tree’s longevity.

“The wet weather is good as far as ideal growing conditions, but the soil can get supersaturated, and that’s why trees are falling,” said Kevin Tunison, a botanist with the National Arboretum.

“There is just too much moisture in the ground, and the soil is becoming loose. Trees in an open area are likely to catch more wind, especially in city streets,” Mr. Tunison said.

Major contracting companies in the area have reported no major increase in repairs of house foundations, but Maryland Pools Inc., which serves the Virginia, Maryland and Washington area, has had many repair calls.

“We’ve had about 40 or more repairs in the past two months,” said Kim Johnson, a dispatcher for the company.

Michael Lacy, a three-year Springfield resident, said he’s seen worse storm damage but that his property was “blown around a lot.” A cluster of pine trees fell near his home but did not damage property.

Mr. Bauer said homeowners should check the health of the tree. If fungus develops on the trunk, color changes in leaves or mushrooms grow around the base, it could indicate a sick tree.

The strongest factor, Mr. Bauer said, is the extreme weather during the past year.

“We went through a drought last summer, then we had heavy snow,” he said. “There’s been no normal weather conditions for a long time.”

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