Climate change, drought might have made trees more vulnerable to storm, expert says

Trees and power lines fell amid storm damage along Pine Street in Danvers on Thursday.
Trees and power lines fell amid storm damage along Pine Street in Danvers on Thursday.Nic Antaya for The Boston Globe

Climate change and drought might have made downed trees more vulnerable to hurricane-force winds during the powerful storm that slammed Massachusetts on Wednesday and Thursday, an expert said.

Cities and towns including Haverhill, Danvers, Duxbury, Lynn, and Boston reported fallen trees because of the storm, officials said.

Trees with structural defects cannot withstand wind gusts of more than 50 miles per hour, said Kristina Bezanson, an arboriculture and urban forestry lecturer at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The National Weather Service recorded wind gusts of 80 to 90 miles per hour in parts of the state.

“We’ve had a lot of compounded factors affecting our trees in Massachusetts,” Bezanson said. “We had three years of back-to-back drought. We had last winter not that much snow cover but really, really cold temperatures.”


Almost 85 percent of Massachusetts was declared abnormally dry Tuesday because of low rainfall amounts, according to the US Drought Monitor. The state faced drought advisories or warnings in 2010, 2014, 2016, and 2017, according to the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation.

Massachusetts communities sustained downed power lines, damaged homes, smashed cars, and blocked streets because of the fallen trees in the latest storm, officials said.

“Your dead and really stressed-out trees are going to fall down and be damaged much more quickly than your healthy trees are,” Bezanson said.

Anyone who suspects their trees might be unhealthy should ask an arborist to inspect them, Bezanson said.

“Always make sure that you are having a qualified arborist inspecting your trees around your home to make sure they’re not only healthy, but they’re structurally sound,” Bezanson said. “We consider dead trees the most at risk.”

Alyssa Lukpat can be reached at alyssa.lukpat@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @AlyssaLukpat.