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Ice damages trees and flowers, cuts electricity to some areas

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, April 10, 2013, at 7:05 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013, at 2:53 p.m.

As if we weren’t already losing enough trees.

Tuesday night’s and Wednesday’s ice storm added a load that was just too much for some trees, especially those that were already in bloom or leaf.

The city of Wichita received about 50 calls Wednesday morning about minor damage caused by trees in its right-of-way from the ice storm, said David McGuire, superintendent of park maintenance and forestry.

Some of the damage was caused by tree limbs falling on cars, he said.

“People shouldn’t be parking under trees right now,” said Bob Neier, ornamental horticulturalist at the Sedgwick County Extension Office. “That is not a good idea. Move into an open spot to park.”

McGuire said that anyone who has an emergency from a tree planted in a city right-of-way – such as between the sidewalk and curb – should call 316-268-4361.

Wichita received more than an inch of moisture since Tuesday night, with nearly a quarter-inch of it remaining firmly encased on flowers, trees and cars. Hutchinson had more than a half-inch of ice on trees. Residents there were reporting downed limbs in some of the city’s oldest neighborhoods such as Hyde Park.

Kingman received 2.35 inches of moisture, and Harper and Anthony received 1.3 inches.

The majority of the Wichita trees damaged by the ice Wednesday were ornamental pear trees, because they were in full bloom when the storm hit, extension agent Bob Neier said.

“They had more surface area to catch the ice and had more weight,” Neier said.

Similarly, amur maples were leafing out and seeding, so they caught more of the ice. Willow trees and river birch also took a hit because they have weak branches, Neier said.

“It’s a shock to homeowners, because they grew fast and they have memories, and it hurts to lose them,” he said.

Some evergreens were bent over by the ice. Neier recommends not trying to knock any ice off and rather letting trees be “and see how much they straighten up in time. Sometimes junipers may need to be removed.”

Or their top may be severely bent and may need to be removed. A shoot should eventually regrow, and the plant should once more look normal, he said.

Neier also advised waiting for better weather to do any pruning, unless a limb is posing a danger. If you need to hire a professional, make sure the arborist is certified, he said.

Peach trees were in bloom when the storm hit, extension agent Rebecca McMahon said, and they were more threatened by a forecasted low temperature of 26 overnight Wednesday than by the ice.

A peach tree in full bloom can experience 10 percent damage at 27 degrees, and 90 percent damage at 24 degrees, she said. “Just a 3-degree difference makes a big difference,” she said.

Trees that are not in full bloom yet would not have as much damage.

McMahon said that the crowns of lettuce crops that were covered in ice should survive, though the current leaves could be a loss.

She recommends leaving the leaves alone until the ice melts. Then take stock of the leaves, removing damaged ones while leaving the crown to produce new leaves.

At Botanica, garden supervisor Pat McKernan once again had to push back his prediction of peak tulip bloom because of cold weather. The tulips were bowed down by the ice Wednesday but not broken.

“I think once the sun comes out, they’ll stand up and carry on,” McKernan said. “Sometime between Friday and Monday, there’s going to be a lot of tulips blooming.”

The ice also did a number on American flags around town. Many were in strips, flapping in the breeze. The one on the Keen Kutter tower in Old Town had broken partially free from its pole and was flying upside down by a corner Wednesday afternoon before disappearing.

The one at the Extension Center at 21st and Ridge Road was not immune. “Ours out here needs to come down, but the rope is frozen in place,” Neier said.

Across the state

For some Kansans, the ramifications to this year’s wheat crop are sobering. After nearly three years of drought, the storm was another blow. With temperatures in recent weeks sometimes climbing into the 70s, some wheat in western Kansas was beginning to come out of its dormant stage. But a late freeze can stunt and even kill the plants – which affects the outcome of harvest.

“Our wheat crop was already affected, to be honest,” said Brian Harris, branch manager for the Farmers Cooperative in the Comanche County town of Protection, on the Kansas-Oklahoma line. “There wasn’t much moisture when the seed was planted. What wheat was there was coming out of its dormancy. Before this storm, some of the farmers have had insurance adjusters out and a few said they’d just take the insurance and destroy the crop. That’s how rough it is. We are going to have to just let the sun come out and see what next week looks like to see if we got much damage.”

The good news “is that the wheat crop is not nearly as far along in development as it was at this time last year due to the drought,” said Jim Shroyer, K-State Research and Extension crop production specialist in a press released issued Wednesday by the K-State Research and Extension Service at Kansas State University in Manhattan. “If new leaves emerging over the next few weeks are green, that will indicate that the growing points survived and the plants will still produce tillers. If the new leaves are yellow, the growing point of that particular tiller was killed by the freeze.”

As Kansas humor, luck and weather would have it, John Schmidt, a farmer and cattle producer near Pawnee Rock, west of Great Bend. Schmidt commented on how the storm affected him: “The wheat isn’t far enough along to hurt.” And a Spring storm this late “won’t even kill weeds, especially that mustard grass,” Schmidt said.

On the streets

One good thing about the storm was that the city streets remained in good shape throughout most of Wednesday. City crews began treating streets on Tuesday night, said Aaron Henning, maintenance engineer for Wichita’s Public Works department.

The emergency accident reporting plan remained in effect until about 1:30 Wednesday afternoon.

After barely rising above freezing Wednesday, the overnight low was predicted to fall to the mid-20s. Temperatures on Thursday are expected to only climb into the mid-40s.

Winds were mostly blowing from the northwest at 15 to 25 mph with 30 mph gusts.

Power shortages in some areas remained a factor, with hundreds of Westar Energy customers without service at various points in the day in Sedgwick, Reno and Harvey counties.

“It only takes a quarter of inch with the wind blowing to put extra stress on those tree limbs,” said Chris Jakub, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Wichita. “One of our employees already reported that a tree in his front yard – half of it was gone.”

Reach Annie Calovich at 316-268-6596 or acalovich@wichitaeagle.com.

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