CAPE ELIZABETH — Monday’s storm uprooted, blew down and ripped apart thousands of trees across Maine, causing damage and power outages that exceeded the devastating 1998 ice storm.

Nowhere was the impact of Monday’s storm more apparent than at Ram Island Farm, a 2,100-acre agricultural and forest preserve in Cape Elizabeth that stretches from coastal beaches, across Route 77, to Great Pond. And never before has Todd Robbins seen so many big leafy oaks and other deciduous trees toppled in one fell swoop of Mother Nature.

“This is not normal, for so many deciduous trees to rip up from the base,” said Robbins, a state-licensed arborist who is assistant property manager at the private preserve. He’s also the town’s tree warden.

“Even after the Patriots Day storm in 2007. That was a nor’easter that took down trees all over the farm, but they were mostly evergreens,” Robbins said. “This is completely different. In many cases, it’s trees I never would have expected to come down.”

According to Robbins and other tree experts, several natural factors contributed to the widespread tree damage and power outages caused by Monday’s storm. In addition to the strength of the storm, with wind gusts as high as 70 mph, an ongoing drought, the time of year and the wind direction likely added up to the widespread devastation.

“It was a perfect storm of many factors,” Robbins said.

‘LIKE A SAIL ON A MAST’

Many trees that fell or dropped branches were weakened after months without significant rain, and infestations of winter moths and other pests, Robbins said. The damage made them susceptible to breaking in high winds and driving rain. Some just snapped at their bases.

In some cases, rotted branches got saturated with rain and ripped from the trunk, Robbins said. Trees with shallow root systems were uprooted, especially if they were near ledge. Even trees with deep roots were at risk in newly wet earth that would have been frozen during a typical winter nor’easter.

And with several more weeks of autumn ahead, many trees still had their leaves, which added to their weight and wind exposure.

“They’re like a sail on a mast,” said Lee Jackson, a licensed arborist who owns Jackson’s Tree Service in Dayton.

Jackson is the town arborist in Old Orchard Beach, where his crews have been busy since Monday, clearing downed trees and limbs from town roads and rights of way. They also removed a 60-year-old oak that fell on a house in Saco.

“I’ve seen more oaks down this storm than ever before,” Jackson said, “and I’ve been in business for more than 20 years.”

WIND FROM SOUTHEAST

Wind direction played a significant role, Jackson said, as it came from the southeast rather than the northeast, which is more common for Maine’s stronger storms.

“Trees are like people,” Jackson said. “They develop roots that flex in the wind like muscles and grow stronger. When the wind direction changes, they’re not strong enough to withstand it.”

David MacDonald, another licensed arborist, agreed that wind direction was a major issue during Monday’s storm, as well as the location of trees. Most of the fallen trees that he’s been called to remove have been evergreens.

“It depends on the exposure of trees to the wind,” said MacDonald, who owns Whitney Tree Service in New Gloucester. “Some of the trees that came down were healthy. Once you get to 60 or 70 mph gusts, the trees really start coming apart.”

MacDonald said his crews will be cleaning up after Monday’s storm for another week or so. Like Jackson, he’s eager to get back to regular tree work that’s scheduled into next year.

At Ram Island Farm, Robbins will be clearing storm damage through the winter with John Greene, a forester who has been property manager at the preserve for 35 years. It’s what they do when nature takes charge of property maintenance.

“As an arborist, this is nature’s way of trimming and getting rid of trees that should go or have become hazards,” Robbins said. “It’s happened and we’ve got to move past it.”

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

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