Saturated ground brings risk of trees falling during high winds

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - So far this month, nearly nine inches of rain has fallen in Memphis. That is five inches above average, and WMC Action News 5 Chief Meteorologist Ron Childers said more is coming.

With the ground being so saturated, trees could be at risk of falling, but the other thing we have to worry about is how wet it has been with all the rain and how that compromises some of the root systems.

Friday, Dana Capocaccia watched as a tree crew chopped up a massive oak tree that fell into two of his rental homes along Park Avenue on Wednesday night.

He said the weather caused it to give way.

"It just toppled with the wind and the rain," Capocaccia said. "I'm just glad no one was hurt."

With the possibility for high wind gusts Saturday, City of Memphis is keeping their eyes to the sky.

"We see challenges, we see increases in trees coming down," Public Works Director Robert Knecht said.

Memories of the Memorial Day weekend storm of 2017 are all too fresh. Gusts of 80 miles per hour toppled hundreds of trees across Memphis then.

But arborist Terran Arwood with Woodland Tree Service said something key stands out now. Deciduous trees haven't put on leaves yet, meaning it might not be as easy for them to fall.

"If you have a sign or a banner you put out in your yard, cutting slits through it lets the wind pass through, and that's the same effect with less leaves on the tree," Arwood said.

Working against us, though, is the fact that Memphis has a high tree cover and the roots can't spread like they should in a forest--meaning any instability like rain-soaked soil may create an issue.

"You could imagine wet spaghetti, trying to hold onto that when the ground's saturated, those roots just don't have the adhesion as they would when it's dryer," Arwood said.

Arwood added just to take precautions, he would recommend that you not park your car under any trees Saturday.

We also know when we talk high wind, there are concerns about power outages.

For some folks in Midtown, even the thought of severe weather and high wind gusts is enough to leave them uneasy not even a year after the Memorial Day weekend storm.

"We love our trees here in Midtown; we don't love when storms come through," Midtown resident John Heckmann said.

A 76-year-old tree fell into his home in the Vollintine-Evergreen District in the Memorial Day weekend storm of 2017, damaging the roof and shearing off the chimney.

"We were out of our house for four months," he said.

Heckmann said the neighborhood didn't have power for a week after that storm. He's hoping this weekend isn't the same thing all over again.

"Having experienced the results of high winds this past summer, it does concern me," he said.

Gale Jones Carson with MLGW said they are monitoring the possibility of strong wind storms.

MLGW took criticism from some Memphis City Council members after the Memorial Day weekend storm, challenging the time it took for MLGW to get information to some of the 190,000 customers without power.

Since then, a storm advisory task force was assembled to help improve communication.

"Memphis Light, Gas, and Water, we do have staff on standby, and we will be ready to work," Carson said. "We are working to make sure our processes are much better for our customers."

As MLGW watches the sky, Heckmann will too, but only after he gets his car out of harm's way.

"I will probably move my vehicles out from underneath the trees as a precaution because even if the tree doesn't come down, a limb can do serious damage," he said.

MLGW said if you lose power, you must call and report your outage--do not assume they know about it.

Also, they advise you download the MLGW app on your smartphone.

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