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Protecting Trees from Lightning in Queensland Australia
In Queensland, Australia, electrical storms are a regular occurrence. Trees are the most common victims of lightning strikes as they reach into the sky, providing a pathway for positive charges from the ground to lead the negative ions contained in thunderclouds. Although wood is a poor conductor, the tree sap is a better conductor than air, completing the circuit from ground to sky. Trees that are close to houses and property can be a particular risk as along the path of the strike, sap boils and the gas in the wood expands often with explosive consequences.
How likely is it that a tree will survive a lightning strike?
There are a few factors that you can look for to decide on the likelihood of a tree getting struck by lightning:
- Species of tree,
- Height of tree
- Geographic Location
- Proximity to structure
What are the chances of survival?
The tree’s chances of survival depend on where the tree has been struck. If only one side of the tree shows evidence, then the chances of survival and closing the wound is good. However, if the strike passes through the trunk completely, leaving a path of splintered bark on both sides it will more than likely die.
Overall health and age of a tree can be a strong factor on whether a tree will survive. By keeping trees well mulched, watered, fertilised and trimmed increases their ability to compartmentalise wounds and survive the vascular system damage caused by lightning.
Practical ways to protect your tree
- 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.
- When planting trees, seek advice from a qualified Arborist on the best species of trees to plant for that area and the topmost position to plant them with regards to future growth. For example an Oak tree planted on the top of a hill close to houses would be a good candidate for being struck by lightning
Which tree or trees should you protect from lightning damage?
- It would not be practical or cost-effective to install rods on every tree but a qualified Arborist can inspect your trees and advise which species of trees are more likely to be struck due to their unique characteristics.
- Proximity to property and height of tree are also important factors. Which tree would be most likely to cause damage to nearby property if struck either by fire or through falling if a lightning strike has killed them?
- A lightning protection system should always be installed by a qualified and experienced Arborist to avoid damage or injury to the tree.
- The installation should always take place on a fine day when no storms are forecast.
- The rods are inconspicuous, reliable and will not injure the tree. The cost of installation will be a one off as the rods will last the lifetime of the tree.