Tornadoes, severe thunderstorms, hurricanes, ice and other storm events can severely impact Georgia’s trees. Unhealthy trees are particularly vulnerable to the stress of wind, ice, and rain during storm events.

A fast response is important following a fire, storm or other natural disaster.

The following information is aimed at assisting homeowners and community officials to prepare and respond quickly and safely after storm events.

Damage Assessment

Many homeowners feel the overwhelming need to clean up tree debris left behind by storm events. Tips for managing the volume of downed trees, branches and other debris include:

  • First, assess safety conditions of your family, home and neighborhood.
  • Homeowners who spot downed trees on primary roadways can notify local officials by calling Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) or their respective county EMA offices. Primary roadways include county and state-maintained roadways. Roadways may include private roads, if life and/or property are in danger and emergency vehicles are blocked from responding.
  • Call insurance providers if there is structural, vehicular or property damage. Follow their instructions to accurately file claims.
  • Follow instructions of local, state and federal officials for your area prior to attempting to remove tree debris in your yard or neighborhood. Local governments have different debris cleanup procedures. They will provide such information as:
    • where to place debris for pickup
    • what lengths to cut branches and limbs
    • bundle sizes and number of accepted bundles for picked up
    • when pickups will occur
  • When cleaning up tree debris, keep trash bags and heavy cord handy. Pile debris where it will not restrict your movements, the movements of tree crews or your neighbors. Be sure to allow access for other debris to be removed. Determine what part of the debris may be recyclable and pile it separately. Most woody debris can be recycled.

Removal of Larger Debris

GFC recommends homeowners only attempt to clean up minor tree debris. Tree trunks and large limbs can be very heavy and their movement should NOT be attempted by one person.

  • Do not attempt to remove leaning trees or large branches on roofs. Improper movement could cause additional structural damage as well as injury.
  • Be very careful when moving downed trees and branches laying over one another. They are likely to be under tension. When you move them, they could snap violently and cause personal injury.
  • Operating a chainsaw on storm-damaged trees is dangerous. Historically, more people are injured by chainsaws than the storm that caused the tree damage. Never operate a chainsaw alone or without proper instructions. In addition, always use the necessary safety equipment, including:
    • leather gloves
    • full face shield or safety goggles
    • hearing protection
    • hard hat
    • long sleeves and pants
    • over-the-ankle leather boots (with a steel toe, if possible)
    • chainsaw chaps

Major Tree Debris Removal and Damaged Tree Management

GFC recommends that homeowners call certified arborists for major tree debris removal and proper maintenance of remaining trees.

Certified arborists can assist homeowners who have trees that have been struck by lightning. Hazardous trees and limbs should be removed. However, major pruning should be delayed six to 12 months (preferably during the winter months). Sometimes, tree mortality takes at least that long or even longer to occur, so major expenditures before then would be wasted. When it appears the tree will survive, more careful pruning and continued fertilization (with deep watering, if necessary) is recommended.

County extension offices can conduct soil tests to determine pH and nutrient levels. Based on the results, homeowners may need to help preserve the tree by fertilizing the tree, aerating the soil, mulching the tree’s root area and watering if soil conditions become excessively dry.

Have patience. Storm debris cleanup can take weeks or even months.

Community Officials

Municipal, county, state and federal officials should call their respective county Emergency Management Agency (EMA) offices (listed in directories by county name and followed by “Emergency Management Agency”) County EMA offices will contact the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) for team dispatching.

Helpful Resources

TitleDescriptionDocument Type
2022 Tornado Damage Assessment from April 5 and 6, 2022

Description of the Event: On Tuesday, April 5th, and Wednesday, April 6th, a strong storm system produced multiple tornadoes, mainly across central and South Georgia. Georgia Forestry Commission management foresters and GIS foresters helped assess and map out the damage that occurred throughout the state. There
were 33 tornado touchdowns, with seven of the tornadoes causing timber damage that required an assessment.

County Extension Offices

Connecting with your Extension County Office can keep you up to date with events, programs, and services just for you.

External Website
Disaster Assistance – Federal Programs

USDA is here to help you prepare, recover, and build long-term resilience to natural disasters.

External Website
Disaster Resource Center

The USDA Disaster Resource Center offers information about specific disasters and emergencies, how to prepare, recover, and help build long-term resilience, as well as information about USDA assistance during disaster events.

External Website
Emergency Response Plan for Community Officials

The purpose of this Emergency Storm Response Plan is to help clarify the roles of municipal personnel and establish uniform operating procedures in response to tree damage during storm events.

FEMA Disaster Declaration Map

View GA Map of disaster declaration by FEMA.

Forest Debris Management Program Practices

View acceptable debris management practices include chipping, grinding, root raking, piling, windrowing, pile burning, or other cost-effective methods to manage storm damage debris.

GEMA County Locations

In addition to county offices, the state is parceled into eight different regions for GEMA and Homeland Security response.

External Website
Georgia Emergency Management (GEMA)

The state’s preparedness, response and recovery agency works with public and private sector organizations to prevent and respond to natural and man-made emergencies.

External Website
HB 1EX Bill

Bill provides emergency disaster relief assistance for cleanup efforts for timberland owners, as well as emergency funding for state agencies and local governments in heaviest-impacted areas.

External Website
How to Evaluate and Manage Storm Damaged Forest Areas

Read this resource to learn what steps to take to evaluate storm damage.

Hurricane Idalia Timber Impact Assessment Georgia August 30, 2023

The goal of the Timber Impact Assessment survey is to determine the current overall damage to the forest in Georgia and to document widespread impacts to the region affected by hurricane conditions.

Managing Storm Damaged Trees: Do’s and Don’ts

Check out this resource for the Do’s and Don’ts on how to manage damaged trees from a storm. Includes: how to hire a professional for clean up, chainsaw safety, pruning and maintenance for damaged trees and more.

National Timber Tax Website

A reference source for timberland landowners; also for accountants, attorneys, consulting foresters and other professionals who work with timberland owners regarding the tax treatment of timber related activities.

External Website
Selling Storm Damaged Timber

Selling timber is a relatively involved process even in the best of times, requiring patience and diligence so that
a good harvest and the best price can be achieved. Learn what to expect when selling.

Storm Damage: Information for Landowners

Storms cause varying degrees of damage to forests and damage can be highly variable across affected areas of the landscape. Landowner objectives for the forest will help determine what actions are needed to restore the health and productivity of the forest resource. View steps to take after any storm.

Storm Mitigation Template

Community Forest Storm Mitigation Plan for Georgia Communities Template

Storm Mitigation Workbook

Community Forest Storm Mitigation Planning for Georgia Communities Workbook

Timber Impact Assessment – April 2020 Tornadoes

On the evening of April 12 and the morning of April 13, 2020, Georgia was part of a severe weather event that extended across the Southeast. The National Weather Service confirmed that 30 tornadoes touched down across the state, ranging in levels from EF-0 to EF-3 and from 0.5 miles to approximately 17 miles long. These storms affected a number of landscapes across the state, including urban, suburban and rural areas.

Timber Tax Credit program

More information about the Timber Tax Credit program from the Department of Revenue.

External Website
Trees & Storm Safety

During a storm, trees are at risk and can cause significant damage to infrastructure and personal property. A storm mitigation plan keeps citizens safe and protects valuable urban forest canopy in the event of a natural disaster.

Page on GFC Website
Urban Forest Strike Team

This video outlines the work of GFC’s Urban Forest Strike Team, which helps communities deal with the aftermath of severe storms.