Windthrow | Montauk Point, New York

© Sophie W. Smith

Joined October 2012

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In forestry, windthrow refers to trees uprooted or broken by wind. Breakage of the tree bole (trunk) instead of uprooting is sometimes called windsnap.

Windthrow is common in all forested parts of the world that experience storms or high wind speeds. The risk of windthrow to a tree is related to the tree’s size (height and diameter), the ‘sail area’ presented by its crown, the anchorage provided by its roots, its exposure to the wind, and the local wind climate. A common way of quantifying the risk of windthrow to a forest area is to model the probability or ‘return time’ of a wind speed that would damage those trees at that location. Tree senescence can also be a factor, where multiple factors contributing to the declining health of a tree reduce its anchorage and therefore increase its susceptibility to windthrow. The resulting damage can be a significant factor in the development of a forest.

Windthrow can also increase following logging, especially in young forests managed specifically for timber. The removal of trees at a forest’s edge increases the exposure of the remaining trees to the wind.

Trees that grow adjacent to lakes or other natural forest edges, or in exposed situations such as hill sides, develop greater rooting strength through growth feedback with wind movement, i.e. ‘adaptive’ or ‘acclimative’ growth. If a tree does not experience much wind movement during the stem exclusion phase of stand succession, it is not likely to develop a resistance to wind. Thus, when a fully or partially developed stand is bisected by a new road or by a clearcut, the trees on the new edge are less supported by neighbouring trees than they were and may not be capable of withstanding the higher forces which they now experience.

Trees with heavy growths of ivy, wisteria, or kudzu are already stressed and may be more susceptible to windthrow, as the additional foliage increases the tree’s sail area.

Trees with decayed trunk, fungus-induced cankers and borer damages are more susceptible to “windsnap”. Read more

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