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Authorities warn against going into the woods after heavy summer storms. But they never say how long after a storm woods tend to be unsafe with trees still falling over and branches falling off trees.

I assume at some time during or immediately after a storm there is maximum risk and then in time it tapers off until it is the same as before. But how long does that take approximately? Are there any numbers?

I appreciate the risk is different depending on the general condition of the wood. For example this year (2023) there was a drought before storm Poly hit the European continent. Maybe it also depends on the type of trees and on the type of soil.

In my case specifically I'd like to know before I can safely commute by bike through a wood consisting of pine and European beech growing on sandy soil in the Netherlands. But a more general answer is also appreciated.

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  • I am told not to go in our local forest till it has been checked and declared safe. That is the area where Poly hit the coast, it is likely less dangerous on roads farther from the worst areas.
    – Willeke
    Jul 9, 2023 at 23:30
  • I was in a similar forest (Veluwezoom) the day after Poly and the damage caused by the storm was less than what I've seen earlier this year (and also last year) due to drought. IMO pine and beech are relatively sturdy, unless they're sick or dead. Birch not so much, they tend to be the first ones to go (they don't root very deep). Not a whole lot of those around where I live, although I did run into one after Poly that had fallen across the mountainbike trail.
    – robertklep
    Jul 10, 2023 at 14:30
  • Veluwezoom was wel south of the worst of the storm. That was from the south of Noord Holland to Groningen. Here near the coast in the center of the path of the storm well established, healthy looking, trees have blown over. Looking out of my window I see two with trunks about a meter diameter. And not city trees either, they were in a big lawn area and are still here because they do not block a road.
    – Willeke
    Jul 10, 2023 at 16:22
  • @Willeke just sharing my own local experience :D
    – robertklep
    Jul 10, 2023 at 16:33
  • @Willeke "checked and declared safe" - don't ever go to woods in the UK then. That simply wouldn't happen. Who would be responsible for checking in your country?
    – Chris H
    Jul 11, 2023 at 14:39

1 Answer 1

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Personally I'd pass through the forest once the wind has died down significantly. I'd go a little more cautiously on a bike, because I wouldn't want to ride round a bend into a fallen tree.

That's already being quite cautious because even weakened trees take a fair bit of force to bring down. An exception might be if the wind, though weaker, has recently changed to a very different direction. I'd prefer to leave it a little longer before camping there.

Summer wind storms are worse than winter ones around deciduous trees because the leaves act like little sails and catch the wind. Deadwood of course can be brought down at any time. In winter a storm would have to be pretty bad for me to avoid the woods even during the worst of it.

The risk of falling tree debris never goes quite to zero (as loose branches can be caught up in the canopy for a long time before falling), so it's a matter of when the risk falls to an acceptable level for you personally.

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    I think that entire trees falling is small on the risk scale (for a cyclist or pedestrian) - you can usually hear when they are about to go. Medium-sized branches give much less warning and can really spoil your day. Jul 10, 2023 at 8:27
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    To my mind, the big thing to watch out for is what's known among arborists as a "widowmaker" - a branch that's not actually connected to anything, but is just being held up by other branches. A slight shift in the wind, or an errant squirrel, can bring it crashing to the ground with zero warning. Jul 10, 2023 at 8:55
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    In winter a storm would have to be pretty bad for me to avoid the woods even during the worst of it. — that's what I thought, until a tree fell down less than 10 metre behind me, where I had just stood. I had underestimated how much weaker the trees are after years of drought and pests. I've also seen trees fall down a couple of days after a winter storm, at a time that I didn't even notice any wind myself.
    – gerrit
    Jul 10, 2023 at 9:31
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    I think you are taking a risk entering woods during a winter storm, and the most likely falls are dead branches. Although they don't have leaves, neither do the nearby trees and branches so a dead branch is exposed to more wind force than in summer: not less. A dead branch continues to rot and weaken, and is always subject to the force of gravity even without wind, although typically it will be a strong wind that finally breaks it off the tree. Jul 10, 2023 at 9:39
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    The risk of falling tree debris never goes quite to zero (as loose branches can be caught up in the canopy for a long time before falling) This is true, but generally a branch that has been stuck up there for a while will be visibly dead; checking above you for deadwood is standard safety advice. The main difference after a storm is that there may be branches that are liable to fall, but still look like they're alive and attached, so you don't spot them and therefore happily stand around underneath them while the wind blows. That doesn't mean you can always see old deadwood, but it's easier. Jul 11, 2023 at 14:12

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