Snapped Trees

By Jonathan Katz

November 21, 2020. Saturday. A gift day, warm, sunny, almost t-shirt weather at Thanksgiving. Into the woods. To the Supply Ponds, the Town of Branford’s magnificent central preserve managed by Branford Parks and Open Space Authority. I had not been there for months, not since the August rainless tropical storm, not since the August microburst three weeks later. Expecting a lovely walk in the autumn woods. Greeted by devastation.

I parked, walked onto the Red Trail, and was appalled by the extent of the damage. Oaks snapped. Oaks felled. Limbs splintered and hanging high above, widowmakers waiting to descend. Five minutes in, I heard a rustling falling, and a terminal thud. A storm-ripped piece had hit the ground 20 feet away. I warned a family, masked and out for a stroll. “Keep your eyes up, it’s not safe here.”

Cell-phone camera in hand, I tried to capture the damage on pixels, but the small screen barely does it justice. It does not capture the depth of field, the size of the broken pieces, or how small the photographer feels, standing next to a sixteen-inch, seventy foot deadfall, with its shallow plate of roots standing ten feet high.

So, there it is. I moved to Branford in 2005 and this is at least the fifth time the trees have been destroyed: the microburst at Goss/Vedder and the Pine Orchard Country Club; Irene; Sandy; and twice this past August. Not counting: the freak October snowstorm that destroyed the power grid in northern Connecticut a few years back, leaving those hill-dwellers without electricity for weeks. Not counting: the tornado that demolished Sleeping Giant State Park last year. I’ve weathered four multi-day blackouts, and sprung for a generator. Something’s happening here…

Climate, my friends, is nothing but the average of weather. Give me ten warm Novembers and I will tell you the November climate is warming. But even the most ardent climate-change denier will tell you the weather in his back yard has gone nuts, gotten mean. These windstorms? This ain’t right. It is not normal to get a tornado a year in Connecticut. It’s not normal for Louisiana and east Texas to get five hurricane hits in one season. In Connecticut, we should not be chain-sawing the wreckage of trashed trees every year. People are giving up: they are having the tree surgeons cut their trees down ahead of time. Better to pay someone to do it right, than find it sticking through the bedroom roof.

Just yesterday (November 30), a non-event storm brought gusts up to 60 miles an hour. There is no way the trees can adapt to weather changing this fast — can we? What does global warming look like in Connecticut? It looks like wicked storms and snapped trees.

Adaptation is up to us. After all, we caused the problem.

• For suggestions on what you can do, visit this helpful link from the Natural Resources Defense Council.