Report: State may be due for ice storms
FAYETTEVILLE -- The winter forecast for landlocked Arkansas depends in large part on the temperature of the equatorial waters in the Pacific Ocean.
If the water is warmer than normal for several months, these El Nino conditions generally mean a cool, wet winter in the southern U.S. When the water is cool, La Nina generally brings milder and drier winters here.
"This year, neither El Nino nor La Nina are in play; that is, the water is about normal and we are in a 'neutral' situation'," the National Weather Service said in its late fall through spring outlook for Arkansas.
"After some research through the Climate Prediction Center, it appears that odds favor above normal precipitation locally from December 2012 through February 2013," the National Weather Service said.
For areas still struggling with drought -- which encompassed more than 80 percent of Arkansas according to the Nov. 13 U.S. Drought Monitor Map -- that's welcome news.
"However, the form that above-normal precipitation takes could bring as much trouble as good," said Deborah Tootle, associate professor-Community and Economic Development, for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.
"According to the weather service, the big snowstorms of January 2000, March 2008 and January/February of last year occurred during or just after moderate to strong El Ninos or La Ninas," she said. "And the big ice storms of 2000 and 2009 occurred when conditions were closer to neutral in the long term."
"Since we are neutral," the National Weather Service said, "there may be more concern about accruals of ice than usual."
"Ice storms can break trees, disrupt power supplies and make access by repair crews very difficult, meaning many people may be in the dark and cold for long periods of time," Tootle said. "Preparing for that possibility is so important."
"Before winter gets here and before the ice hits is the time to get a shelter-at-home kit ready," Tootle said. The Cooperative Extension Service has a preparedness fact sheet, "Be Aware and Prepare: Winter Storms," available for download at: www.uaex.edu/news/pressroom/storm_recovery/BeAware_Winter.pdf.
Fall is a good time to assess what trees have the potential to drop large, damaging branches, or fall whole, causing damage to people or property.
"After two years of drought, many stressed trees have died and could create new hazards around homes, farms and other buildings," said Tamara Walkingstick, associate director, Arkansas Forest Resources Center. "A obvious symptom of tree death includes branches that still have browned leaves clinging to them, when similar trees are bare."
Walkingstick has a checklist for assessing trees:
* Take a close look at the structure of the trees. Multi-stemmed evergreens such as junipers and arborvitae, and weak-wooded deciduous trees such as silver maples and Bradford pears are most susceptible to branch breakage.
* Is there obvious structural damage in the tree such as large dead or dying branches, hanging limbs from this year's wind storms, or visible cracks in the main stem or primary branches? If so, then the potential for failure during an ice or snowstorm increases significantly.
* Are there mushrooms or rotten wood at the base of a tree? That can indicate internal rot and those trees can easily come down with just a strong windstorm.
In other cases, it might be best to have a certified arborist examine trees for potential danger to life and property. Certified arborists can be found through the International Society of Arboriculture, http://bit.ly/Tencr4.
When it comes to trimming trees, "homeowners should not 'top,' or 'hat rack' trees, which is the practice of removing all branches except for the large primary branches," Walkingstick said. "However, the branches will re-emerge and be even more dangerous than before."
Editor's note: A fact sheet about winterizing trees may be found at: http://warnell.forestry.uga.edu/service/library/index.php3?docID=127. Information on dealing with trees after a storm can be found at www.arnatural.org/forestry/Ice_Damage/picking_up_after_the_storm.htm.