As long as trees continue to grow outdoors, tree care work is going to take place out in the elements. That means dealing with heat, wind, sun, dust, pollen, rain, cold and, for those working in many parts of the country, snow. All of these different weather conditions pose their own challenges on the job, and learning to work safely and effectively in them is an important part of being successful in this profession. For those who must contend with snowstorms, there are some special things to think about.
“We go through a lot more protocols in the wintertime, especially when there are snowstorms,” says James Rehil, a climber with Alexander and Wilson Tree Care and Services in northern Michigan. “When we know there’s a big snowstorm coming, we let everyone on the crew know, so they can be prepared. We get all of our gear ready, make sure that everything is in tiptop shape.”
“It makes sense to be sure you have the supplies you need, like fuel. And make sure your saws and chippers are in working order,” advises Trumbull Barrett, owner of Barrett Tree Service East, servicing the Boston area. “You need to be sure that everything is up and running and ready, should you need to be dispatched on a storm-related call.”
And it’s important to factor in the reality that it takes a lot longer just to get crews out of the yard in the morning after a snowstorm, points out Robert Vedernack Jr., president of Arbor Care Solutions Tree Service in the Chicago area. “Unless your trucks are all kept inside, and I would say that not many tree care companies have enough square footage to put all of their equipment inside, you have to spend a lot of time just to get trucks cleaned off, running and out on the road,” he says.
Rehil says that Alexander and Wilson’s policy is not to work during actual snowstorm events, particularly if there’s wind involved. “If there’s an emergency situation, we’ll go out in a snowstorm, but if the weather is too bad, we will normally shut everything down, because it’s not safe — not only for the [workers] on the ground, but it’s not safe for a climber to be in a tree or to be running a bucket,” he emphasizes.
“We do occasionally get calls during a storm event, but it’s usually pretty tough to address something while the storm is active…. It can cause more risk than it’s worth to work on something during the storm,” says Barrett. “As the storm is dying off, we may go out and check out the situation, just to see what we might need. Then we can go back the next day to address it.”
Barrett says that if it’s cold enough, the snow that comes during a storm might be light and fluffy, producing little in the way of tree damage. “So, we usually don’t get too many calls from that. But if it’s a wetter, heavier snow, evergreen trees are sometimes breaking and branches coming out of trees,” he explains. Rarely do whole trees come down due to snow, unless there’s wind involved with the storm, Barrett notes.
Arbor Care Solutions Tree Service will also go out in a snowstorm only in the event of emergency. “Most of the time, if there’s a tree down on a house, we’re there within an hour,” says Vedernack. (In those cases, he advises that homeowners take photos documenting the situation before, during and after the work is done for insurance purposes.)
Vedernack says that the amount of damage left behind after a snowstorm often has to do with what the prior growing season was like. “This year, for example, we had a lot of rain at the beginning of the summer, so everything grew so much. This winter, there will probably be trees and branches everywhere after the snow hits,” he explains. But Vedernack adds that, generally, windstorms are more damaging than snowstorms, noting that he typically sees fewer instances of downed trees and utility wires after heavy snows than after strong winds.
From a business standpoint, he says that snowstorms do tend to be good for tree care companies. “If branches are breaking around the neighborhood, it gets people thinking about their trees, and homeowners get worried about their homes,” he says, noting that it prompts some to finally call about tree work that they had been meaning to have done over the summer but had put off. Even if there’s not a lot of damage, a storm gets people thinking ahead, says Vedernack.