The Exploding Oak

While I was working at my desk yesterday signing a new listing, the giant oak outside my window exploded.  There was a loud sound that you can imagine is the one written in the balloon over the cartoon guy that gets smacked on the head.  “Crack”  A hundred times louder.  I ran outside to find that a giant limb from the oak tree that oversees this place had fallen on the red van owned by the guys here putting in the garden pavers.  No one was hurt but it was a mess.  My second thought was the oak.  It looked Ok, just a big jagged opening into the pulp where the branch popped off.  Now a huge leafy branch caving in the roof and windshield of Augusto’s car.

Why do oaks explode?  So the easiest example to explain is why oaks explode in lightning storms.  Basically they usually don’t.  Why?  A single bolt of lightning carries a peak current that’s ten thousand times the energy of a light bulb.  In a storm when the oak is wet they don’t explode.  The water acts as a great conductor and the lighting might look pretty dramatic as it runs down the tree but it doesn’t explode.  Now, if the oak is dry and the lightning strikes through the bark  and hits the water filled sap line, and runs down from the inside out and explodes the tree from the inside out.  Cool.  I knew a surfer once that was hit by lightning (twice) and was just fine.  He was also bitten by a Great White and did fine but I’m heading too far into the karma zone.   Back to the oak.

The bark of the oak is thicker than most other trees.  It generally takes much longer for anything to get through it including water.  That means that when lightning actually gets to the heart of the oak, the tree being dryer on the outside and wetter on the inside really looks dramatic when it explodes.

So in our case here it’s summer and there’s no lightning!  Yesterday was one of the hottest days of the year.  A friend of mine called in the afternoon to say their rabbit had collapsed.  I walked downtown and people were lying everywhere under the big trees at the library and the post office reading books or just not moving.  I took the butter out of the refrigerator to make a pie and within 20 minutes I coudn’t get it all out of the paper.

So I have been trying to figure this out.  There are no shortage of blog spots that agree that on really hot days oak tree limbs fall.  I have seen a giant limb, almost one third of the tree, go down in September and take out a corner of a barn.  One answer I read was when its really hot the tree pulls back its liquids to the core depriving outgoing limbs from getting water.  The rapid drying out fractures the wood in weaker limbs.  Dead limbs don’t go because they are already used to not getting water.  If the weather is hot for a long time and the temperature goes up slowly, the pull back affect is not as dramatic and the limb just dies.

So why that limb.  There are about 50 others like it that wouldn’t have hit the car.  This is where my explanation comes in.  There have been workers here for a month.  Usually we don’t have anyone out here.  One car maybe none a day.  Now there are at least 6 or seven cars driving around the oak several times a day.  I kind of like the electricity idea from the inside out.  There have been strange currents around here lately.  They are running heavy equipment.  The ground has been completely torn up albeit along way from the tree getting this big construction project completed.  The electricity (OK its knob and tube around here)  has been causing mini black outs and driving me crazy trying to work on the computer.  The oak is sick of it.  He wants these folks done.

I mentioned this to the contractor who gave me a really funny look.  Then he added.  My guys saw the whole thing happen.  The limb gave way missing Jeannine’s car by inches.  She was here cleaning up things in the house.  It actually bounced backwards and upwards to land on the top of Augusto’s car.  Nice.  Thanks Oak.

So I called my trusty insurance agent Laila Zaccaraiah at Allstate.  We’ve been with them for years.  “It’s an act of God,” I say.  “We shouldn’t have any deductible!”  “You’ve been our faithful agent for years. We’ve never had a claim.”  She’s calling the adjuster.

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