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Learn how to how to tell if a tree was hit by lightning and what you can do to protect trees from lightning damage in the future.

How to Spot—And Protect—Trees from Lightning

July 19, 2016

Remember the old saying that lightning never strikes the same spot twice? If this were true, it would surely be a relief for our trees in the midst of summer storms.

But contrary to what we have been told, lightning can strike more often than we thought, and trees are a top target.

Below learn how to tell if a tree was hit by lightning and what you can do to protect trees from lightning damage in the future.

What happens when lightning strikes a tree?

Lightning targets the layer of water and sap just underneath the tree’s bark. This sweet spot is the perfect travel route for a bolt of lightning.

As lightning runs down the inside of the tree, chunks of bark explode off of the trunk. Additionally, leaves are cut off from their water supply, leaving them wilted and no longer able to produce food for the tree.

Can a tree survive a lightning strike?

A tree’s ability to recover after a lightning strike depends on the tree’s species, health and moisture levels as well as the lightning’s power.

After the storm passes, first see if the tree poses a hazard to passersby or your home. If you spot jagged or hanging branches that are small in size, you can likely remove them yourself.

If the tree looks dangerous or needs large limbs removed, contact your local arborist. They can also share their expert opinion and perform an in-depth tree risk assessment.

In some cases, lightning wounds will heal themselves over time. More severe gashes in the trunk leave the tree vulnerable to harsh weather or insect and disease entrance, which can lead to tree decline.

How can I protect my tree from lightning?

Installing a lightning protection system is a proactive way to keep your tree and property safe.

Mounted on your tree’s trunk and running into the soil, a heavy copper cable system gives lightning an alternate path to the ground.

Here's what to do if your tree was struck by lightning.

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