Toppled Trees on the Mall–More to Come?

By Michael Robinson, Contributor

Toppled Trees
Two oak trees near the Chapel fell Sun. morning Oct. 4. Fortunately, no one was hurt and no vehicles were damaged as the trees fell. Photo courtesy of Amanda Richey

Extreme weather left its mark on Furman’s campus by taking two of its iconic oak trees down Oct. 4.

The campus bid farewell to two of the towering oak trees lining Furman Mall. The trees fell on the morning of Sun., Oct. 4 as a result of the four inches of rain that inundated the campus over the weekend. The rain, coupled with brisk winds, toppled the trees. A partial shutdown of the mall and a traffic detour through the Chapel Lot resulted as the cumbersome trees took more than a day to clear from the roadway.

The Admissions Office spent much of the weekend trying to stay dry during their annual Fall for Furman event for prospective students. Undeterred by the rain, Admissions Ambassadors were seen all over campus, umbrellas in hand, ushering the prospective students to programs. According to Jake Saine, the Vice President of Recruitment and Training for Ambassadors, Fall for Furman festivities had already concluded by the time the trees fell.  

Senior Will Lear witnessed the first tree collapse across the road as he worked on the patio outside of the library.

“I was shocked. Suddenly I heard loud crunching and cracking from over by the Chapel. I looked up just in time to see the tree fall,” Lear said. “It looked like it was all happening in slow motion.” After that, Lear decided to relocate inside.

“I wish I had stuck around to see the second tree fall. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before,” Lear said.

What caused these woody behemoths to lose their footing? Dr. Wes Dripps, Chair of the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department, explained the process that caused the trees to come down.

“Because of the thick, hard red clays that underlie the relatively shallow soils across the Upstate, tree root systems tend to be shallow and laterally extensive as opposed to deep,” Dripps said. “The shallow root system makes the trees susceptible to being blown over and uprooted during intense storms.”   

While Greenville evaded the brunt of the storm, an event Gov. Nikky Haley called a “1000-year flood event,” the Reedy River pumped out 40 times its normal discharge rate, and localized flooding turned campus into a soggy mess.

Many blamed Hurricane Joaquin as the origin of the dumping rain. However, Dr. Suresh Muthukrishnan, Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences, explained that the source of the record rainfall was more complex.

“The causes of a mega-storm like this are complicated. Factors in the upper atmosphere directly influence the intensity and duration of precipitation,” Muthukrishnan said.

This is not the first time Furman’s trees have made the news. In January, The Greenville News did a question and answer session with Jeff Redderson, Vice President of Facilities Services. According to Redderson, around one third of the original 225 trees planted on the mall have been replaced due to old age – their life span is between 50 to 70 years – and natural weather events, like last week’s storm.

The facilities department has a detailed plan outlining the replacement of the remaining trees in the coming years. In the meantime, be careful when the next major rainstorm comes through. Our old trees do not handle them as well as they used to.

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