(This araticle was originally published on December 8, 2008. Regretfully, the author of this article has passed away. Your comments are welcome, but you will not receive any replies to questions you may have.)

December 8, 2007 brought Oklahoma and the surrounding states a storm that will never be forgotten. The rain began as a mist. Trees and grass began to sparkle in the street lights as a thin layer of ice formed. The rain continued until a thick layer of ice coated almost every limb, every branch, every leaf. It seemed like there was no escape. After hours of continued heavy precipitation, trees were bending towards the ground. Then, as more rain fell, so did the trees. First a few weak limbs cracked and tumbled through the ice-coated world. Later, weak trees like bradford pears split and tumbled downward. Dead or dying trees also fell. Normal night sounds disappeared; an uneasy calm stillness created by thick layers of ice was broken continually by what sounded like rifle shots followed by the sounds of glass breaking. The dramatic noises were large limbs and whole trees breaking and falling through the ice encrusted world. Ocasionally, a tree groaned in the midnight air as hundred of pounds of ice pulled her toward the ground. And then, huge healthy trees that towered fifty or sixty feet in the air tumbled. Cars, fences and homes were crushed. When daylight finally arrived, the rain did not stop, the trees did not stop falling and the electricity did not work. I thought every tree in Tulsa must have been destroyed.

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A huge tree, broken.

Branches down.

Tulsa has long been proud of the trees that line our streets and neighborhoods; it has about 125 parks that are filled with thousands of trees. In March 2007, the city's Arbor Day press release stated that this was Tulsa's "14th consecutive year to receive the prestigious Tree City U.S.A. award designation from the National Arbor Day Foundation." Nine months later, the December ice storm killed or greatly damaged over 20,000 trees while knocking out electricity to over 250,000 customers in Tulsa alone. This story was repeated throughout the entire state of Oklahoma and in surrounding states. Red Cross shelters were opened; crews of electric workers and tree teams from other states set up camp in Oklahoma. Some of Tulsa's beautiful parks were in ruins. For example, Chandler Park is a 200-acre park where more than 200 trees were highly damaged. Woodward Park is a 45-acre park in the heart of Tulsa and boasts thousands of Azalea bushes and about 5,000 rose bushes as well as more than a thousand trees; over 100 trees needed to be removed after the storm. These were trees that had regularly withstood 60 and 70 mph winds every spring. Some had been planted during the Great Depression while others were about 100 years old.

On January 18, 2008, the Tulsa World newspaper reported that in the first week of clean up, a contractor had hauled storm debris "roughly equal to a 12-story pile of debris almost the size of a football field"(1). The hauling of debris continued through April and May of 2008 in Tulsa. Then, in June, a spring storm hit Tulsa. Many weakened limbs and trees tumbled down. Other cities had not even cleaned up the winter storm damage before the spring storm hit. For example, Broken Arrow residents were still concerned about the piles of limbs on July 4.


April 3, 2008
Damage remains.

April 3, 2008
Damage remains.

April 19, 2008
Clean up at a Tulsa park.


June 8, 2008
One of many storm debris collection sites in Broken Arrow.


The destruction was only the beginning of the story; now the restoration chapter has begun(2). Tulsa has begun an aggressive reforesting campaign which may be modeled around the country. This multi-step process (after clean-up) would be easy for home gardeners or city planners to copy. The basic steps and Tulsa's response are shown here:


Tulsa's Response

Identify hardest hit areas. A team of specialists evaluated Tulsa parks and neighborhoods.
Determine what trees grow best in these areas.A recommended tree list was published on the city web site. This list include large, medium and small trees.
Research funding.Funding for new trees was found from local companies and nationwide grants.
Encourage residents to plant trees.Residents have been encouraged through newscasts, radio talk shoes, newspaper articles and the internet. Non-profit organizations, builders and even children have been included in the plans.
Set a goal for re-greening.Tulsa's goal: 20,000 Trees by 2010
Lead by example.By January 31, 2008, the Mayor had planted a white redbud tree. and trees were planted in four Tulsa parks in public ceremonies during the fall months of 2008. At least eight other plantings are planned; these dates are posted on the city web site.
Give rewards for planting trees.Tulsa residents will receive a "ReGreen Tulsa E-Certificate of Recognition from Mayor Kathy Taylor" after a tree is planted on private property and an on-line form is completed.

Tulsa's tree canopy is still beautiful, but many trees are missing. Thankfully, the generations alive today are regreening Tulsa's streets and parks so many generations of tomorrow will enjoy the benefits.


Trees near the Arkansas River.

Tulsa trees fall 2008.

Tulsa area (Bixby) spring 2008.

For more information regarding causes of ice storms, "being prepared for Nature's elements" or repairing tree damage, please read the informative article "Winter's Wrath: Ice and Snow Damage" by Toni Leland.

Thank you for reading this article. Please feel free to comment below.

(1) http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?articleID=20080115_238_A1_hToda45273

(2) http://www.cityoftulsa.org/ReGreen/index.asp