James Sherman drew a map showing where a limb fell on his truck as he was driving down Hwy. 290 between the ‘Y’ and William Cannon. – photo by Will Atkins
by Tony Tucci
More than leaves are falling from Austin trees this year. Record high temperatures and a lengthy drought have left tree branches brittle and ready to snap, causing an increased risk for anyone passing underneath.
The proof of that was discovered last week by Oak Hill resident James Sherman, who was driving north on U.S. Highway 290 when a branch fell from a tree on top of his pickup truck. Sherman said damage was minor, but could have been far worse if he had been driving his motorcycle or a small sedan.
“A few dents and scratches on my pickup just give it character,” he said. “But imagine if it had been a Corvette.”
Sherman said the limb that fell on him was about 8 inches in diameter and 7 feet long. He had to lift one end at a time to get it off the roadway. The accident occurred on 290 just east of the ‘Y’ intersection, about halfway between the ‘Y’ and Wm. Cannon. “I’m just concerned that someone is going to get seriously hurt,” said Sherman.
Austin 311 reported that the number of complaints regarding fallen tree limbs has almost doubled this year, from 10 in 2010 to 18 so far this year. And that’s just the calls involving low-lying branches on street rights-of-way. Higher branches involving utility lines are referred to Austin Energy.
The utility is tackling the situation before a problem occurs, said Ed Clark, public information officer for Austin Energy.
“We’ve seen a slight increase (in reports of fallen limbs), but we’ve been telling our customers to call us and report any dead limbs, and they’ve been doing so in significant numbers,” Clark said. He said there has been an increase of more than 50 percent in reports from customers.
Clark said he expects things to get worse. In the spring, when trees are supposed to blossom and new leaves emerge, dead trees will be even more obvious.
Austin city arborist Michael Embesi said “the drought has taken its toll.” He said the lack of rain has added a stress factor, just like high temperatures, poor soil and development. When trees are stressed, they drop their leaves early, and in more severe cases they drop their branches.