How Much Wind Can Trees Handle?
It would seem obvious that trees break at different resistant points or when subjected to different speeds of wind. However, science has almost proved that this isn’t the case. A cyclone that swept through the southwest of France back in 2009, revealed to scientists that trees of different heights and diameters, with different elastic properties, break at the same time. It is high wind speed rather than a tree’s characteristics and proportions, that causes a tree to break. Therefore, it seems that all trees are vulnerable to breaking in wind speeds of 94 mph.
How Much Wind Can Trees Handle?
Scientists like da Vinci and Galileo proposed that there was a mathematical law governing the resistance of wooden beams when placed under stress. Modern-day scientists have now uncovered that law.
In an experiment published in Physical Review E, scientists experimenting with wood reported their findings. During this experiment, they hung pieces of pencil lead and weights from wooden rods. They proceeded to record the amount of force necessary to snap the cylinders.
As predicted, rods of a fixed length and increasing diameter were stronger and could bend more before snapping. It might thus seem that tall, thin trees are more vulnerable to wind damage. The scientists showed though that trees don’t grow taller without a disproportional increase in diameter. An odd way to try and illustrate this is to say that an ant can carry the same amount of body weight as a horse, at least proportionally.
The laws of Allometry, which are the laws that explain the relationship of a tree’s size parameters like height and diameter, were incorporated into the results. Scientists were able to determine mathematically why all the trees subjected to the cyclone broke when wind speeds reached 94mph. There were some variables: doubling a tree’s size meant an increase in wind speed of only 9 percent. Sturdy, fracture-resistant wood required only a 10 percent increase in wind speed. Here, the law of Scale comes into play.
How trees break
Generally speaking, there are three ways a tree will break due to strong winds.
Trees in water sodden ground and trees with rotting root systems are susceptible to being uprooted in strong wind storms. If the tree roots do manage to remain in place, the tree trunks are then at risk of breaking as a result of torsion or bending. Such breakage is referred to as stem lodging.
The cyclone event in France revealed that the most significant damage to forests happened in areas that experienced winds in excess of 94mph. The damage was indiscriminate, as hard and soft wood trees of all sizes, species, and ages, with different levels of resistance, were affected in the same manner.
Just as tall skinny trees are as vulnerable to breaking as shorter, stouter trees, under the law of scaling, so are the boughs of a tree. As a tree grows taller it will experience an almost tripling of diameter for every doubling of height. The same psychics apply to boughs.
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