Don’t Run Away from a Falling Tree.

What with climate change and storms and all that, your chances of getting hit by a falling tree have gone from 1 in 1,000,000 to 1 in 200.000, or some incomprehensible number like that. As such, it behooves us all to learn what to do and not to do when a tree falls near us.

Full disclosure: I have been involved in logging since I was 10 years old and put myself through grad school working as a faller, so I know whereof I speak. However, my advice mostly applies to trees that have been cut off at the base. With windfalls, you also have to watch for the effect of the roots, because they make the speed and direction of fall less predictable.

Before it Happens

Most safety in the woods, just like anywhere else, starts with staying out of danger. Some of these points are rather obvious.

Don’t walk near trees on windy days. Duh!

But if you do have to go out in the wind, don’t wear your earphones.  Sound comes from 360 degrees. You’re much more likely to hear that tree coming than see it. Think of it this way; walking in nature is a great brain cell-producing activity. If you deaden the experience with noise of your own, you miss all that.

Look for signs of rot in the trees near your house. Broken branches, multiple tops, holes, dead stems, etc. Inform your neighbors in writing if their trees threaten your house. That counts in insurance claims.

If it Might Happen

If you see a tree about to fall and you’re too close to get away, think about Diagram A above. The closer you are to the trunk, the slower it moves. But keep in mind Diagram B. When the larger branches hit the ground, especially if they slanted upwards, they force the trunk backward. So straight behind the tree as it falls is bad news.

When a logger drops a tree, the moment it starts falling he steps back at 45 degrees to the line of the fall. That’s the sweet spot.

When it Happens

Trees fall slowly. There’s all that resistance from the roots and wind resistance from the limbs, needles, leaves, etc. Look first, then move. Here are some hints:

Don’t run away from the tree. It’s simple geometry. In the diagrams above, we have a 24-metre-high tree. Our friend is half the length of the tree away from the trunk. If he happens to run the wrong way, he has to go 12 metres to avoid getting hit.

If you look up and see that the tree is falling on you, you only have to step aside the length of a limb, say 3 metres, to miss it completely. And if you trip and fall, your head will be a couple of metres even farther from the trunk, which is the most likely part to do you damage. The closer you are to the stump, the less distance you have to run, and the slower the limbs are moving if one should hit you.

After it Happens

Don’t stand there pulling out your phone for a photo op. Look up!

I don’t know the statistics, but I’m sure more loggers get injured by a loose limb or by a different tree than the one they are felling. A dead tree leaning into another tree isn’t called a ‘widowmaker’ just for fun. I’ve had a tree I felled hit another tree which fell at 90 degrees, then hit another tree that also dropped at 90 degrees, right back towards me.

So, the moment the tree stops moving, look up and listen up. If your earbuds are still blasting, take one out. Then get safely inside. The tree will still be there for pictures when the storm is over.

The Bottom Line

Do everything you can to stop global warming. You might save your grandchild from being hit by a tree.

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