City of trees prepares for storm season

A dozen Gainesville Police officers were decked out in tree surgeon garb last week as they got a crash course on how to safely clear limbs from rights-of-way using a chainsaw.

Each year, Gainesville cross-trains staff to make sure there are extra hands ready to respond to weather emergencies.

The Atlantic hurricane season starts June 1 and runs through Nov. 30 while the eastern Pacific season starts on May 15 and runs through Nov. 30, and that means Gainesville, aka Tree City USA, must remain prepared to respond to wind gusts and storm damage.

Colorado State University (CSU) season hurricane forecasters predict that, “the 2022 Atlantic basin hurricane season will have above-normal activity.”

The average number of named storms during seasons from 1991-2020 was 14.4 out of the Atlantic but 2022 brings a prediction of 19 with nine of those listed as hurricanes that have winds of 74 mph or greater and four listed as major hurricanes with winds of at least 111 mph.

According to City Arborist Dave Conser, Gainesville is one of the first three cities in Florida to achieve the Tree City status which requires a city to establish a tree advisory board, have a tree ordinance, recognize Arbor Day, and spend at least $2 per capita on trees.

“Gainesville has a higher percentage of canopy than any city in Florida,” Conser said.

City of Gainesville Tree Surgeon Herb Poole trains GPD Officer Thomas Kooplikkattu
City of Gainesville Tree Surgeon Herb Poole trains GPD Officer Thomas Kooplikkattu on tree clearing techniques.

The City works year-round trimming and maintaining trees on public property, he added. It’s up to Gainesville residents to monitor trees on their private property before storm season arrives.

“Folks need to think about their trees especially when it comes to hurricanes,” Conser said. “Trees can get through storms better than you think,” he added, but advised property owners to consult with a tree surgeon or certified arborist who will look at trees to check for issues or defects that would require pruning or removal of dead branches.

“Best not wait until a hurricane is brewing out in the Atlantic,” Conser said as prices for tree service work tend to rise as demand does. Conser recommends choosing an arborist from the International Society of Arboriculture list.

When a storm approaches, Conser said, “It is all hands on deck.”

“Tree crews are mobilized and ready, and some stay overnight in Public Works to respond.”

According to GPD spokesperson Graham Glover, “During hurricane events, chainsaw-certified personnel are assigned to strike force teams that deal with downed trees.

“The GPD Emergency Service Unit (ESU) teams work with Public Works and GRU, and assist when power lines are not in play. They generally handle smaller trees, shrubs, and limbs that can be moved without heavy equipment.”

It was City of Gainesville Tree Surgeon Herb Poole who was training the GPD officers on safe operation of chainsaws and how to clear a fallen oak tree at Morningside Nature Center last week.

Before the hands-on demonstration he told the officers, “Make sure to update everybody’s phone numbers and contact information and have chains, fuel, and oil on hand.

“Anytime a storm comes in, everything should be fueled up and ready to go.”

The city certifies employees in chainsaw operations so they can help out during emergencies.
The city certifies employees in chainsaw operations so they can help out during emergencies.

One by one, officers stepped up to the fallen tree and learned how to start up the chainsaw and safely dismantle the oak tree that was blocking a roadway within the park.

“It gets them use to doing some cutting,” Poole said about the training.

Trees that are downed by storms are cleared and hauled off to a staging site and eventually chipped up and sent to the GRU Deerhaven Renewable Generating Station, Poole said.

To stay up to date this season, follow GRUStormCentral on Twitter. Report downed trees and outages by calling 352-334-2871 or create a request on mygnv.org or via the myGNV app.

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