Nearly 16,000 cubic yards of debris – mostly tree limbs – has been dropped off at the city of Missoula’s three sites for collecting detritus from the powerful windstorm that blew through western Montana on Aug. 10.
That’s roughly enough to fill five Olympic-sized swimming pools.
Chris Boza, the city’s urban forester, said no single species of tree was more susceptible than any other to toppling over in the gusts that peaked at 74 mph.
“When you have hurricane-force winds, the wind is non-discriminatory,” he said. “In general, the failures where you had whole-tree failure were based really in part on the exposure. If you had a tree that was sheltered or in a group, it did fairly well. If you had a tree in the open or if it was in a wind tunnel or corridor, those went over. Exposure was a significant consideration.”
He didn't have an estimate for the number of trees that were downed by the storm, but noted the city has stopped collecting debris at McCormick Park, Playfair Park and Fort Missoula because crews started chipping it Monday.
“Things are slowly winding down,” he said. “We are hauling all debris on an overtime basis. We should have an estimate of what it cost us (this week).”
Boza said city crews also can’t be expected to pick up debris in front of people’s homes if it didn't come from the storm.
“There are locations where folks have brought out debris from their backyard, like from sawing bushes, and we’re not going to chip that so they need to dispose of it on their own,” he said. “The good citizens of Missoula only have a heart so big, so people need to not take advantage of that. We are at cleanup stage right now.”
Greg Pavinich, an International Society of Arboriculture-certified arborist, was busy last week sawing the remnants of a 100-foot-tall blue spruce tree that fell across a street in the University Area during the storm.
Fortunately, it didn’t hit anything, he said.
“That was the worst storm in at least 30 to 40 years,” Pavinich said.
Pavinich said blue spruce and other species with shallow root systems and no deep taproot are particularly susceptible to falling during windstorms.
“This one had root rot, too,” he said. “The problem is the wood’s not worth anything. Let’s put it this way – I was lucky I could give it away.”
Pavinich said that people may want to consider only dwarf varieties if they are thinking of planting a spruce tree.
“Don’t plant spruce, period,” he said. “They are pretty trees. But probably, if you drive through this area, you’ll hardly ever see any spruce standing.”
Pavinich also offers a service called “wind thinning” that could give homeowners a little more peace of mind.
“You take about every fifth limb so you open it up so wind goes through it rather than it being a barricade,” he said. “You nip the top back a little bit.”
Even with thinning, however, there's no guarantee a tree won't fall during a powerful windstorm, Pavinich said.
“Like I told this homeowner, it could stand for 20 to 30 years, but if you get a freak storm it could blow over,” he said. “And that’s what this was – a freak storm.”
While Pavinich said he's seen his business increase – but only so much – he feels like some people are taking advantage of the storm. Last week, in fact, state Insurance Commissioner Monica Lindeen warned the public to be aware of possible “storm chasers” doing shoddy work or committing insurance fraud.
“I’m a small operation, so I could only help my regular customers," Pavinich said. "There’s all kinds of guys driving around in pickups with chainsaws and a trailer and no insurance.”