Sacramento’s iconic tree canopy turns destructive in storms
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — On a good day, the sun shines in California’s capital — and elms, pines, oaks and hundreds of other tree species fill Sacramento’s parks and tree-lined streets, cementing the city’s reputation as “The City of Trees”. .” But in a bad case, strong winds knock down some of the trees, causing damage to cars, houses and power lines.
That’s what happened in recent weeks, as the defining feature normally seen as a city asset gave way to destruction and disruption as multiple “atmospheric rivers” swept through Northern California, bringing intense winds and rain.
Wind gusts reached more than 60 miles (96 km/h) on Sunday, strong enough to uproot massive trees — smashing into homes, toppling cars and even uprooting concrete sidewalks. And as climate change continues to drive drought in California, trees are left weakened and more likely to be uprooted as they battle saturated soil and relentless winds.
Climate change and natural disasters have damaged other tree canopies around the country, such as Hurricane Katrina, which felled 10% of New Orleans’ trees in 2005. In recent years, hotter and drier weather has made Seattle and Portland, Oregon, to lose tree cover. A rare storm known as a derecho ripped through Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in the summer of 2021, taking down many trees.
More than 1,000 trees have fallen in Sacramento since the New Year’s storm, said Gabby Miller, a spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Public Works. On Wednesday, city foresters were still determining the full extent of the last tree’s downfall. Trees were left lying across sidewalks and roads, some with yellow caution tape haphazardly placed over them or nothing at all, causing at least one crash. Some homeowners and condo owners anxiously awaited cranes and chain saws to remove trees that fell on or into their homes.
The destructiveness of the weekend storm was on display when Niki Goffard and her boyfriend were sleeping early Sunday morning when a branch struck their home, less than a mile from the state Capitol. They looked out and saw two trees swaying back and forth.
They debated whether to stay home or leave. Then, they heard a crash.
“Before we could make a decision, both trees fell — one on our house and one on our neighbor’s house,” Goffard said Monday.
A section of the roof above their bedroom collapsed and fell on Goffard’s boyfriend, causing several minor scrapes and bruises. They had to stay at a nearby hotel while they waited to hear back from their insurance company.
“You never think something like this is going to happen to you,” Goffard said. “It’s been quite shocking and traumatizing.”
In a park surrounding the state Capitol that functions as an outdoor museum of the state’s flora with 400 species of plants and trees, the storm knocked a massive pine tree to the side of the road and the wind blew the fruit from the trees and onto the sidewalk. Afterwards, the scent of orange hung in the air.
Sacramento is located at the confluence of two rivers, the American and Sacramento. During the 19th century, when officials faced the risk of flooding, the city built a levee and planted trees on top in a failed attempt to increase its stability, city historian Marcia Eymann said.
The city’s trees help cool temperatures during the sweltering hot summers, but they also help control flooding. Tree roots absorb water, and most of the rainwater that falls on their leaves evaporates, the Environmental Protection Agency noted.
“They are natural shadows and umbrellas for the city,” Eymann said.
Trees being toppled by high winds and wet conditions in Sacramento are nothing new. In the 1990s, Northern California was devastated by floods, tsunamis and earthquakes, Eymann said.
“We’ve had one natural disaster after another, but we always rebuild and we always come back,” she said.
Crews from the city’s Department of Public Works are continuing to clean up, focusing first on downed trees and power lines, Miller said.
“Every single person who can work right now is working,” Miller said of the cleanup process.
The city typically receives about 500 tree service calls per month. In the week after New Year’s Eve, that number was up to 700, with the city responding to about a third of them by last Friday, Miller said. In recent days, more than 400 new calls have come in, she said.
The Sacramento Utilities District has removed more than 300 trees or branches since New Year’s Eve — many of which fell on power lines and power equipment, company spokesman Gamaliel Ortiz said.
California state Sen. Angelique Ashby, who represents the city, said recent storms have highlighted the need to be careful where trees are planted to limit damage.
“We’ve benefited so much from those big beautiful trees in Sacramento that this is the danger of being the ‘City of Trees,'” she said.
Associated Press reporters Adam Beam and Terry Chea in Sacramento contributed to this report.
Sophie Austin is a staff member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a national nonprofit service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercover issues. Follow Austin on Twitter: @sophieadanna