Recently, it seems like the whole state was blanketed with winter storm activities, which has now left some parts of Washington experiencing flood risks, avalanche warnings, and post-storm tree damage.

When winter storms sweep through, they can leave behind wet, heavy snow or thick layers of ice. If a tree is weak, diseased or previously damaged, between the wind and the weight of snow and ice, the tree’s limbs may break or the whole tree may topple (also known as tree failure, as described in Timely Tree Tips, “Factors Contributing to Tree Failure”). Heading outside after a winter storm can feel magical, but if a storm has been particularly severe, it can be a different story. In this case, you’ll want to carefully evaluate your surroundings.

When heading outside, first, consider safety. You’ll want to look out for a few main concerns:

Photo source: KSU Extension
  1. Damaged utility lines impacted by broken limbs or trees. If you see any utility damage, hanging wires, or have a concern, please call your utility company as soon as possible and do not approach the tree or limbs.
  2. Fallen trees or branches blocking your driveway or public right-of-way. If the damage occurred on your property, you’ll want to contact a company that is licensed, insured, and employs ISA Certified Arborists. These professionals can help remove the tree and assess your other trees for damage or hazard. To look for a Certified Arborist in your area, visit Keep in mind that you probably won’t be the only person with storm damage so be prepared to leave a message and wait until the work can be scheduled. If the damage is on public property, call your municipal public works or forestry department or any non-life-threatening emergency number to report limbs across sidewalks or roads.
  3. Don’t stand under a snow or ice loaded tree. It may seem harmless, but the accumulated snow and ice can be extremely heavy, move unpredictably and can pose a risk to your safety. Let the snow and ice melt naturally and observe your larger trees from a safe distance.

Note: Following large storms, many tree service companies and public works/forestry departments will be using a “triage” system to deal first with life-threatening and public safety situations, followed by cases with significant damage, and then to fallen or damaged trees without safety issues or property damage.

If your boxes are checked for safety precautions, you can begin to assess the damage on your property. Some common signs of tree damage after a winter storm include:

  • Broken or hanging branches from ice and snow loading
  • Torn bark
  • Frost cracking
  • Winter burn/desiccation
  • Branches weighed down by snow and/or ice
  • A tree that has split apart
  • Broken or missing leader (the main upward branch)

To learn more about each of these injuries, please continue reading our Timely Tree Tips — Winter Injuries Tree Link article.