When the bough breaks, who takes care of it?

A tree on power lines near Seven Corners in Fairfax County. (WTOP/Hillary Howard)

WASHINGTON — How well do you know your neighborhood? Could you describe the trees along the sidewalks?

John P. Thomas can.

“We have all our trees on a map,” he says. “We know where every single one of them is.

“We know the canopy cover for every neighborhood, every ward, however you want to break it down. The biggest problem is just that we don’t know where the next storm is gonna come.”

That’s why Thomas flinches when he hears the roll and crack of thunder. He works with the Urban Forestry division of the D.C. Department of Transportation, so it’s his job to care for those trees and make sure they stay healthy and upright.

Even healthy trees are at risk during thunderstorms. “Healthier trees tend to fail first in a wind event,” Thomas says.

That sounds counterintuitive until you take a look at those leafy limbs: “They create a sail effect and actually catch the wind,” Thomas says. They go down depending on the force of the wind and saturation of the ground.

When trees come down, Thomas’ division goes in to clear the way. So if you spot a downed tree obstructing a roadway, sidewalk, or public land, call 3-1-1.

Thomas attended the first of a series of hearings before the D.C. Public Service Commission last week.

Pepco and DDOT are coordinating in an effort to bury wires, focusing on the most troublesome feeders in the District. The DCPSC will hold hearings Monday and Tuesday before issuing a ruling on the proposal sometime in October.

WTOP’s Kate Ryan contributed to this report.

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