Challenges Of Tree Work: During And After Winter Storms

The first step to tree work after a snowstorm is to get rid of the snow, at least on the immediate job site. “We actually bring a snowblower to job sites with us to clear the snow, or sometimes we have a small skid steer on the job … or we’ll just have four or five guys shovel out the area … because it’s so hard to trample through the snow if we remove wood debris off the property,” says Robert Vedernack Jr., president of Arbor Care Solutions Tree Service in the Chicago area. “We’ll sometimes remove all the snow from an entire yard throughout the day if we have to.”

He emphasizes that the time spent to move this snow at the beginning of the job will easily pay off in the form of improved efficiency while tree work is taking place. Trying to drag branches to a chipper through a foot of snow is no fun, and it’s slow. “Believe me, you make up for that 20 or 30 minutes of snow-clearing work if you’re going to be on a job all day,” he states.

“It takes a lot longer to get a site set up,” after a snowstorm, says Trumbull Barrett, owner of Barrett Tree Service East, servicing the Boston area. Not only clearing the snow, but even just getting property owners’ vehicles out of the way after a snowstorm can be tricky, because there’s often no place to put them. Enough snow must be cleared so that there’s a safe area to work in. “Once everything is set up, though, we can usually operate at a pretty normal pace … And it’s definitely worth putting in the effort upfront, because then you can do a really nice job for the clients,” he states.

“It takes a lot longer to get a site set up,” after a snowstorm, says Trumbull Barrett, owner of Barrett Tree Service East. He points out that all of that work does at least keep the crew warm.

Image Courtesy Of Barrett Tree Service East

James Rehil, a climber with Alexander and Wilson Tree Care and Services in northern Michigan, says that tree care equipment needs extra attention, as well, when it’s out working in and after snow events. “We check to make sure that there’s no ice or snow buildup on our ropes and that everything is working correctly with our blocks. We don’t want that buildup to make things slippery, make the hitches not work correctly or make our ropes not run through the blocks properly,” he explains.

All of the normal safety practices remain important, but you also need to always be thinking about what additional impacts the snow and ice might be having, he stresses. “Just about everything about doing tree work can be more dangerous in the winter,” says Rehil. “Everything is colder outside, so the trees react differently. Then there can be snow and ice loads on the trees.”

And Rehil says that calls after snowstorms often involve trees down on structures. “They come down on houses, barns, sheds, vehicles, etc.,” he says. In that regard, working after snowstorms is a lot like cleaning up after any other time of storm event, adds Rehil. “There are a lot of pressure points you need to watch out for — spring poles, things like that. You need to be prepared for just about everything.”

Winter mode

“We dress a lot differently in the winter — different gloves, different boots,” says Vedernack. “You can’t move at the same pace, both because of the snow itself, because of safety concerns and because you’re wearing different clothing. When you’re wearing bigger clothing, you’re just naturally going to be a little more sluggish and slow.”

In some ways, that’s just as well, he points out. “When we’re working in snow, we’re definitely not in a hurry to do anything. Everything we do, we really think about before we do it.”

Sometimes it may take an hour to set up to get a limb off a roof, when it only takes 15 minutes to do the actual job, says Vedernack.

While the clothing is different, Vedernack says that, for the most part, the equipment he uses is set up for all-season use. “The exception would be on a big land-clearing job,” he notes. “If you’re running a skid steer, there are actually winter tracks and summer tracks — hard metal tracks and rubber tracks — so there are some changes you can make so that equipment runs better in the cold and snow.”

Vedernack says that working in snow is part of the job. “We work all year-round, so snow is just something that we have to deal with,” he says. He also notes that sometimes the most dangerous part is running the company trucks out on the roads after a snowstorm. “It’s not exactly easy driving around in a 50,000-pound truck when there’s snow flying everywhere,” he says. Even if crews are trained on the safe operation of vehicles in the snow, there is always danger from other drivers. “Sometimes just getting to the job is more dangerous than the tree work on the job.” says Vedernack.

There’s also usually more work to do when the trucks come back at the end of a day out on snowy roads, says Barrett. “We do a lot more washing of equipment than we normally do, just to get all of the salt off the trucks and chippers. So that adds some time, too,” he explains. Overall, though, Barrett says that things have a way of evening out. In the summer, much more care must be taken when working to avoid doing any damage to the property. “You have to take a lot more care of the lawn and the flowers and vegetable gardens,” he says. In the winter, the ground is often either snow-covered or frozen hard. “Things are either dormant or dead, so you can have a little heavier footprint in the winter,” he points out, “so there’s often more access.”

Barrett also notes that, at least when it’s not actively snowing, winter is a great time to do tree work. “If you have the right clothing and footwear, you can work in pretty much any condition that nature can throw at you. So, it’s important to make that investment in the proper clothing,” says Barrett. “We really work hard to make sure everyone has the right clothing and equipment, and then we can do great work in the winter, as well.”

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