Lightning Strikes and Protecting Trees in Brisbane and Beyond

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Electric-storm -Brisbane

Lightning Danger in Storm Season

With storm season well and truly underway in South East Queensland, the threat of electrical storms and lightning strikes is never far away.  According to electricity supplier Energex, lightning is one of the main reasons for power outages in SEQ and there were over 830,000 ground lightning strikes recorded in SEQ in two years (2013 and 2014). You can follow their lightning tracker here.  Lightning strikes are also the cause of 5-10 deaths I Australia each year and over 100 severe injuries. Australia Wide First Aid gives the following advice:

Try and find shelter within a building, bus shelter or car and avoid water and objects that conduct electricity. This includes:

  • Golf Clubs
  • Umbrellas
  • Metal Fences
  • Trees
  • Puddles/Pools of Water

If you’re unable to find safe shelter, crouch down in the open, feet together with your head tucked down towards your chest. You should aim to make yourself as small as you can. Laying down flat on the ground increases your total body surface area, which also increases your chance of getting struck by lightning.


Why Not Shelter Under Trees During a Storm?

The belief that it is safe to shelter under trees during a storm is a long-held myth that has been completely debunked.  Trees are particularly susceptible to lightning strikes as they are often the tallest object in the proximity of the lightning’s leader stroke.  Never stand under a tree if it is a lone tree or the tallest tree in a group as it is most likely to be struck as lightning always strikes the shortest path to its destination. Being hit by falling branches and electrocution are also a strong risk if you are standing close to the tree as the trunk of the tree becomes charged as electricity flows through it. The electricity can also flow from the ground into your body through the soles of your feet.




storm-cloud-Brisbane- tree



Damage Caused to Trees by Lightning

In Australia lightning strikes can be especially devastating to tree communities.  Data collected by the Australian Bureau of Statistics indicated that lightning was responsible for 26% of bushfires between 1976 and 1996 in Victoria equated to 46% of land burnt by bushfires with a total of 53,096 hectares affected.

If your tree has been struck by lightning, there will be visual damage to the bark of the tree but also the canopy and the tree roots are likely to be adversely affected.  According to Consulting Arborist David Vizer, ‘The extent of the damage is influenced by the voltage of the strike and the resistants of the soil type.  Soils with smaller particles such as clay soils provide more resistants while courser grade soils such as sand provide less resistance.’


How do you know if your tree has been struck by lightning?

  • Deep thin or wider thicker cracking/splitting down the trunk of the tree.
  • Permanent leaf wilting of a single branch
  • Recoverable foliage, branches wilting then recovering over several months.
  • Die back in the crown over months or years due to water or nutrient loss from damage sustained to the roots.

Treating Lightning Struck Trees

Arborist David Vizer advises delaying expensive treatments for at least one year after a strike to avoid unnecessary expense and his recommended best practices include:

  • Installing watering systems for at least two growing seasons
  • Attaching loosened wood and bark using pressure belts- this should be done as soon as possible, and the area should remain moist.
  • Cover damaged tissue with white plastic to reduce water loss.
  • Remove damaged branches taking care to not over prune.
  • Apply a thin layer of mulch to the surface of the surrounding soil to aid water retention.



storm lightning tree clean up


Prevention: Using Lightning Rods to Protect Trees

Lightning rods can be successfully installed to protect trees from strikes.  Installation of Lightning Rods – A metal rod is a better conductor than the moisture in the trunk, so the lightning is guided down to earth without injuring the tree. Installation of a copper cable system that extends from air terminals near the top of every major trunk down to 10-foot copper ground rods driven beyond the tree’s drip line can be installed by an Arborist. Special fasteners hold the cable away from the tree to protect the trunk from injury.


Trees that should be considered for lightning protection are:

  • Heritage trees,
  • Trees of cultural significance,
  • Significant trees I open recreational areas such as parks and golf courses,
  • Trees in lightning prone area within 10 feet of a structure,
  • Any vulnerable trees where people of animals take shelter.


Professional Tree Care for You!

If you have any questions or concerns about your tree safety call Heritage Tree Care on 0737155444 and our Level 5 Consulting Arborist David Vizer will be happy to be of service. We cover Brisbane, Logan, Ipswich, Redlands, Moreton Bay, Toowoomba and the Gold Coast areas.