Human fatalities from wind-related tree failures in the United States, 1995–2007

Abstract

There were 407 deaths from wind-related tree failures in the United States, 1995–2007. The most common cause of the deadly fallen tree was a thunderstorm (41%), followed by nonconvective high winds (35%), tropical cyclones (14%), tornadoes (7%), and snow and ice (3%). Most (62%) of the deaths were males while the median age was 44 years. The most common location of the fatality was in a vehicle struck by the tree or a vehicle that crashed into a downed tree on the road (44%), followed by persons outdoors (38%), in mobile homes (9%), and in frame houses (9%). Persons killed by wind-related tree failures during tropical cyclones and tornadoes were more commonly at home (40%) when struck than those killed at home by thunderstorm and nonconvective high winds (13%). Seasonality of the deaths varied by weather type with deaths in thunderstorms clustered during May–August, nonconvective high winds October–April, tropical cyclones August–October, tornadoes in April and November, and snow and ice December–April. Regional patterns result from frequency of the wind events, population density, and tree cover. Suggestions are made for hazard reductions.

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Acknowledgments

A portion of this research was conducted by students in an Honors College section of the Fundamentals of Meteorology course at Kent State University in fall 2007. Those students were Tori Gelet, Dylan Gomez, Erin Lowe, Erin McNutt, Molly Shriver, Matt Surdock, Paul Thompson, and Andrew Vanek. Appreciation is extended to Elayne Cross for assistance with data collection. Yukihiro Suzuoki and Jeanne Schmidlin assisted with the maps. An education on tree risk and terminology was provided by Julian Dunster, Consulting Arborist, Bowen Island, BC, Canada, and E. Thomas Smiley of Bartlett Tree Research Laboratories, Charlotte, NC.

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Correspondence to Thomas W. Schmidlin.

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Schmidlin, T.W. Human fatalities from wind-related tree failures in the United States, 1995–2007. Nat Hazards 50, 13–25 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-008-9314-7

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Keywords

  • Storm deaths
  • Fallen tree
  • Fatalities