Last Thursday night, the old oak tree on the northeast corner of the Gulfport United Methodist Church came crashing down in the storm.
The tree, identified as a laurel oak by Toffer Ross, a Gulfport-based landscape designer, had a prior lightning strike revealed in the trunk after it fell, she said Friday morning.
"Usually they hit at the top of the tree," she said, noting the blackening in the trunk. "it goes through the tree and grounds out in the base of the tree. That's a tree that recovered. That lightning strike could easily have been 10 years old. I could see the interior of the tree was hollow by the ground. The series of winds we've been having and the amount of rain... the tree branches retain water and it makes the tree heavier to support. When the winds comes the tree doesn't have the structural integrity at the base, because the tree is hollow at the base, to hold itself up. It's kind of like if we were held up by our skin."
She guessed that a "freak wind blast" caused the tree's ultimate demise. Workers began clearing the tree Friday morning. "It's that weird freak gust of wind that people think is going to come with a hurricane but in reality come with smaller storms that tends to take down the majority of our trees."
She encourages people to perform storm trimming on their oak trees every three to four years.
"It will ultimately help save your trees," she said. "It's inevitable that we're going to get a freak weather occurrence every summer. If people spend just a little bit extra money to get their tree trimmed, it could save their trees, their house, their car, their wife."
According to Ross, laurel oaks live about 120 years. She estimated the age of the tree at between 70 and 80 years old.