Life in Portland Blog

Everything You Should Know About Falling Branches During Pacific Northwest Ice Storms

A Cold Weather Hazard in Portland and Beyond

December and January are the most common months for ice storms across the U.S., and any seasoned Portlander will tell you that during these months, we’ll see our fair share of them here in the Pacific Northwest. Ice storms are created by freezing rain, and coat all exposed surfaces with a thick layer of ice.

In these conditions, trees can quickly become dangerous when ice collects on branches and high winds can cause weak branches to snap. Accumulations of ice can increase the weight of tree branches by a factor of 10 to 100 times, which can greatly increase the amount of damage done when they fall. In severe cases, fallen ice-coated branches can lead to blocked roadways, property damage, injury, or even death.

If you are a concerned homeowner looking to avoid such a catastrophe in your own backyard, consider planting trees that are less susceptible to breakage during an ice storm. Here are some suggestions to help get you started.

Deciduous Trees

Deciduous trees are highly durable throughout winter ice storms because they lose their leaves in the fall, which means less weight to worry about weighing down the branches. Pick a deciduous tree with strong wood and well-attached branches. Avoid a strong, upright growth habit, or narrow crotch angles. White Oak, Pacific Dogwood, Red Alder, and Black Walnut are all good options.

Conifers and Broadleaf Evergreens

Conifers and broadleaf evergreens have high resistance to winter ice storms, owing to their profound flexibility, tapered shape, and lack of trunk branching. A good rule to remember is that while most conifers can hold their own during an ice storm, spruces and firs will often have less damage than pines. Western Hemlock, Oregon Myrtle, and Douglas Fir are especially recommended.

Wintertime Tree Care

One of the most effective ways to prevent fallen branches during an ice storm is by pruning the trees regularly. This ensures that the trees will be more resistant to snow, ice, and wind, and less likely to have weak branches that could quickly become dangerous in severe weather.

What to Do When Tree Branches Fall Near Your Home

Call Urban Forestry at 503-823-TREE (8733) to report a street or park tree emergency. An emergency can be any of the following:

  • A tree has fallen over.
  • A large branch has fallen from a tree and is blocking a street, sidewalk, or public park.
  • A tree located in a park or city right-of-way is splitting.
  • A large branch is hanging from a tree over a sidewalk, street, or other public property.
  • Any other immediate hazard situation on public property

If the tree emergency is on your property and you need immediate assistance, then call 911. If utilities have been damaged, contact your utility provider immediately:

  • Portland General Electric (PGE) 503-228-6322
  • Pacific Power & Light (PPL) 1-888-221-7070