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City’s big trees are hard hit by storm

Weather Service says ‘macroburst’ rocked the region

By David Abel
Globe Staff / June 8, 2010

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Dozens of willows, maples, and other trees, some century-old vestiges of the city’s history, toppled during Sunday’s storms, leaving local parks looking as if they had been hit by a hurricane.

Indeed, they had been hammered by hurricane-force winds.

Yesterday, the devastation was visible in the form of splintered trees and lots of fallen branches on parts of the Esplanade, the Fens, the Public Garden, and elsewhere. City park officials estimated about 50 large trees had fallen in the Public Garden, on Boston Common, and on the mall along Commonwealth Avenue.

“It’s a tragedy,’’ said Mary Hines, a spokeswoman for the Boston Parks and Recreation Department.

The National Weather Service estimated yesterday that gusts up to 80 miles per hour swept through the area Sunday in what they described as a macroburst that stretched from Framingham to Boston. A macroburst occurs when “a very intense downdraft from a thunderstorm accelerates to the ground and spreads out,’’ according to the Weather Service.

“This was a reasonably large macroburst,’’ said Alan Dunham, a meteorologist at the Weather Service. The strongest winds recorded on Sunday were 68 miles per hour shortly after 4 p.m. at Logan Airport, he said.

“During the summer, we’re susceptible to this kind of weather, which can produce really strong winds that can cause a considerable amount of damage,’’ he said.

Hines could not say how much cleanup and replacement of the trees would cost. She said the elms and oaks fared better than the maples, the lindens, and the willows, some of which looked as if they had been hollowed out by termites.

“This is a priceless loss,’’ she said. “The majesty of some of these trees just won’t be there anymore. No matter what we put in to replace them, we’ve lost part of the look of these parks.’’

Henry Lee — president of the Friends of the Public Garden, a local group that has helped pay for the planting of trees in city parks — compared the loss of the trees to a death.

“You can’t help but feel terrible when you see this happen,’’ he said. “Trees are a lot like people. They’re fine one day, and suddenly they topple over.’’

City officials said the Public Garden lost one of its towering willows, two maples, a tulip tree, and lots of limbs of other trees. They said they are still counting their losses.

City workers remained out in force through yesterday afternoon, using cranes and heavy-duty chainsaws and feeding the felled branches and trunks into machines that chopped them up.

On the Esplanade, near the Lagoon and Otis Grove, it looked as if a tornado had blown through the area.

Approximately eight trees were uprooted (four willows, two maples, and two oaks) and another 10 were damaged to the point where they will need to be removed, said Catherine Williams, a spokesman for the state Department of Conservation and Recreation.

Another 30 to 40 trees sustained significant damage including downed limbs and split leaders, she said in an e-mail. Affected species include a mix of oak, linden, and willow.

The Otis Grove area saw significant damage, Williams said. Three of the five large willows were uprooted and damaged beyond repair.

Clean-up efforts began yesterday afternoon, with DCR staff focused on immediate safety concerns: trees within the roadway, uprooted and leaning trees, and trees and limbs across pathways and pedestrian bridges. Crews will continue the cleanup today, Williams said.

The multiple downed willows left passersby gawking at the destruction.

“It either speaks to the volume of the storm or to the health of the trees,’’ said Andy Jablon, 57, who has commuted through the area for six years. “It’s sad. You can’t replace a tree like this. People don’t appreciate the value of these trees until they are gone.’’

Kristen Greany, 22, a Northeastern University student, was pushing a stroller while baby sitting when she came upon the devastation on the Esplanade, a park along the Charles River that sustained damage along much of its 3 miles.

“I just can’t believe it,’’ she said. “It’s insane how many trees are down.’’

David Abel can be reached at dabel@globe.com.