New Beginnings: One Family’s Story About how the 2000 Tornado in Fort Worth, Texas devastated their trees.
By: Getth Nelson Certified Arborist TX-4050A
March 28, 2000, 6:18pm: sirens all over Fort Worth ring loudly in anticipation of a possible tornado headed toward downtown Fort Worth. Dana Freese frantically rounds up her Doberman named Gus and heads to the coat closet under the stairs of her 1941 Colonial style home. Her kitchen windows, original to the house, barely holding together as they are pelted with large debris coming from the West. Seemingly safe in the closet, she cups her ears to shield the noise that can only be described as “a jet plane taking off in the living room.” Loud crashes, shattering glass, and the eerie howl of wind as it plows through the house at over 100 mph.
6:28pm: As the chaos comes to a halt, Dana emerges from the closet cautiously. The first thing she notices is her chandelier violently spinning in circles. The smell of gas fills the air, as she urgently tries to get out of the house fearing it could blow up at any moment. The front door is blocked by debris, and eventually a neighbor comes to her rescue. Once out of the house, the level of destruction exceeds anything she could possibly imagine.
Her 150+ year old trees are snapped in half, sections of her roof laying in her yard, and a large (approx 38” Diameter) Red Oak is completely uprooted, resting atop her house as if it dropped right out of the sky. In the front yard, a 225 year old Post Oak that was there since before the first houses were built in the early 1930’s, lays snapped in half from the sheer force of the wind. Cancelled checks that were stored in Mrs. Freese's attic were found more than 50 miles away in Richardson.
In the end, Fort Worth suffered nearly $500 million in damage, 2 people were killed, and 80 more suffered from serious injuries in just 10 minutes. When looking at these pictures, it's astonishing more people didn’t lose their lives. Mrs. Freese’s home was one of 93 homes in Fort Worth completely destroyed by the storms that day. She was forced to move into the Crestwood apartments for over a year while the house was completely rebuilt. Today, only one wall original to the house remains. Just over 16 years later, the damage has been cleaned up, and you wouldn't even know a Tornado passed through her Rivercrest neighborhood. Until you look up…
Many trees that experienced significant damage still stand. It's really quite impressive when you consider what they have endured. Since 2000, these native trees have experienced large hail, heat waves, prolonged drought, insect damage, extreme temperature fluctuations, monsoon-like weather, and yet they they continue to thrive. Standing robust in her front yard is the “brother” to the other post oak that had been snapped in half by the F3 tornado. This is a truly impressive tree, with a history that predates Texas joining the United States. It withstood winds strong enough to torque ¼” steel beams that are still standing at the intersection of West 7th and University. Large bulging knots with newly compartmentalized wood hide the fracture points where limbs were violently ripped off. 16-year old reactive growth known as epicormic sprouts have developed into 7”+ limbs. To the untrained eye, you wouldn't even know that 30-40% of the entire tree had been compromised.
In back, stands a longleaf pine that was just a sapling in 2000. You can see in pictures that a limb had nearly broken the main trunk. It was inches away from being the 15th tree Mrs. Freese reluctantly removed from her lot that year. Today, the Pine is thriving with a 16” trunk. It has grown taller than the house with no indications of slowing down. I can't help but wonder if this pine would have had the same success growing in the shadow of the large red oak that was hurled on to the house. Just like in the forest, the untimely demise of one tree creates opportunities for understory trees patiently waiting their turn to get some sun light.
After the storm
Following storms, arborists are often times called out to see infinite varieties of storm damage. It could be a Bradford pear with multiple co-dominant trunks ripped in half by the golf ball sized hail we experienced in March, 2016. In May 2015, we were called up to address an influx of fully uprooted trees as a result of waterlogged soil and high winds. Some trees simply break due to poor pruning practices and neglect. Any number of disorders can result in failure during unpredictable Texas Weather. However, nothing compares to the explosive power of tornado force winds.
While good tree care is a must when it comes to keeping trees strong and healthy under typical Texas weather, no tree maintenance program can prevent damage to your trees from this level of impact. The 14 trees removed from Mrs. Freese’s property in 2000 were not weak or diseased. They didn't suffer from any soil borne fungal disorders like Phytophthora. Their canopies had been pruned on a regular basis, and the pictures indicate the trees to be healthy and sturdy. This storm was a true test, hundreds of years in the making. Never before had these majestic beauties been asked to endure such a catastrophe. Ultimately, both root systems held strong, however the trunk of the North Post Oak split right in half like a matchstick. Its roots still deeply embedded with no indication of heaving or uprooting. 59-years of pruning, fertilizing, watering, and caring for this tree all negated in moments. In the end, the strong craftsmanship of Mrs. Freese’s World War 2 era home absorbed the impact of the tornado to shield the Post Oak to the South. It still stands to this day as a memorial to its fallen “Brother” to the North.
March 28, 2000 will forever be a dark memory in the eyes of most North Texans. Happily, Mrs. Freese is doing well, and her Rick Ewing designed landscape couldn't be more impressive. In back a small makeshift table, propped up by a decomposing section of the large Red Oak that destroyed her home, stands as a reminder to never take weather in North Texas lightly. Much like this decomposing piece of Red Oak, the despondency caused by the Tornado will become nothing more than a memory. In the field, clients will often ask me if their trees are safe? I always answer not forever. No tree is safe, every tree will come down eventually. Hopefully, it isn't today!
Posted: July 8, 2016