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Rain fells dry, brittle trees creating weekend hazards

By Sherry Koonce
Sept. 30, 2012 at 10 p.m.

A slow, steady rain that brought nearly four inches of precipitation to the Longview area this weekend drew attention to a danger left over from two years of drought.

Rainfall resulting from a low pressure system moved into the area Saturday morning and stayed all weekend. By Sunday afternoon, Longview had received 3 inches of rainfall - enough to saturate brittle trees and limbs.

While the soaking raised rainfall amounts to near normal levels, the added moisture caused several trees to snap and crash to the ground - on powerlines, in the street or both.

"We are concerned with the combination of rain soaking into dried-out wood, wood dry from the drought," Longview Fire Marshal Johnny Zackary, said.

Longview's fire department and Southewestern Electric Power Company workers were called to the sites of several downed powerlines this weekend, most the result of falling limbs and trees.

On Sunday, a large pine tree in the front yard of a vacant home on Jean Street snapped and fell, blocking the street and taking the electrical line down.

"The tree came down across a primary electric lines, took out power service and had the tree in the road, Zackary said.

"It did significant damage to the power supply."

By Sunday afternoon, limbs had fallen at St. Clair Street and a tree fell on a power line, which snapped three electrical poles at Tryon Road and Loop 281. Traffic was diverted while workers cleared the tree and worked to restore electrical power. As of Sunday night, Tryon Road remained closed from Loop 281 to Hollybrook Drive.

With the trees as dry as they are, it will not take much wind or water to topple trees, Zackary said.

"Even though they are dead, there are open pores. Water soaks in the wood and makes it more susceptible to breaking," Zackary said. "If we get some ice this winter, we could really have a problem."

Patrick Omundson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service's Shreveport office, said Longview is about 2.40 inches below normal rainfall amounts for the year. September rainfall measured 3.06 inches above normal.

SWEPCO spokeswoman Kacee Kirschvink said there were scattered power outages in East Texas, some resulting from the dead trees.

"With as many dead trees as we are having out there, we are going to see some problems," Kirschvink said.

According to SWEPCO's website, electrical power to 57,224 Gregg County customers was interrupted this weekend. In Harrison County, 19,700 were without power.

Rains were expected to have cleared from the area by Monday, with sunny to partly sunny skies throughout the week.

Zackary recommended that homeowners in the coming days use this weekend's rain event as a reminder to check for dead trees.

"Now would be a good time, in the fall, to take a survey of trees or limbs that need to come down, before you or your neighbor is a victim of falling trees," Zackary said.



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