Oak Tree Struck By Lightning? What Happens & How To Save It

The oak struck by lightning in the park

Lightning striking your oak tree can be a rather interesting experience. When it happens and lightning actually does strike your oak tree, there are a few reasons why, and several things you can do in order to save your oak tree.

Oak trees are taller than most trees and are more likely to get struck by lightning due to their height. If your oak is struck by lightning, you will need to water, fertilize, and trim dead branches off the tree. Lightning damage on your oak tree will split the tree and cause burnt, black marks.

Stick around and we will answer all your pressing questions, including how to care for an oak tree that has been struck!

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Can An Oak Tree Survive A Lightning Strike?

In short, yes, it is possible. An oak tree can survive a lightning strike, though it is going to take some time and care to get the tree back to healthy standing.

It is possible that your oak tree may not survive the level of damage caused by a direct lightning strike. It all depends on factors such as the intensity of the strike, the height of the tree, and how the lightning impacts the tree itself.

So, while oak trees can survive a lightning strike, it is not always a sure bet that they will. 

​​For that reason, we are also going to help you learn some best practices to follow as you work to maintain your oak tree’s vitality after a lightning strike. There are things you can do, from preparing and learning about lightning to understanding maintenance practices following a lightning strike. 

To understand an oak tree’s reaction to being struck by lightning, it is important to first understand what lightning is. 

Just Why Does Lightning Strike Oak Trees?

Lightning strikes at night during a severe thunderstorm over the city of mendoza, argentina

Essentially, lightning is a discharge of electricity. Such electricity also happens to be the cause of the thunder we also associate with thunderstorms. Oak trees are conductors of lightning because they offer a tall location close to the clouds and are full of moisture and sap that are better at conducting energy than the air and shorter plants nearby.

According to the UCAR Center for Science Education, just one stroke of lightning can heat the air nearby up to around 54,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

So, when this discharge of electricity, which is extremely hot, contacts a conductor such as an oak tree, it causes quite the commotion. Understandably so!

Not only does this lightning strike cause damage to the oak tree, but there is also a very audible reaction that occurs, which we are going to explain next.

What Does It Sound Like When Lightning Hits An Oak Tree?

The extreme temperatures generated by a bolt of lightning (let us not forget it is fifty-four thousand degrees Fahrenheit in the air), creates the sound that accompanies a lightning strike connecting with a oak tree, which is quite fierce.

The sound, explained by the Library of Congress to be a giant shock wave, sounds much like an extremely loud bolt.

The heat of the air causes the air itself to expand faster than the speed of sound, which results in hearing thunder very close to you, hence the loud noise that comes with lightning striking a nearby oak tree.

When lightning and thunder are close together, you know a storm is close. As the time increases between seeing a bolt of lightning and hearing a clap of thunder, the lightning is getting further away from you because the sound is taking longer to travel.

How Can You Tell If Lighting Struck A Oak Tree?

Sometimes, it is not even apparent your oak tree has been struck by lightning until it rapidly declines.

In this situation, the electric current of the lightning would have run through the inside of the oak tree, using the sap and internal moisture as a conductor. Internal damage caused by a lightning strike may not be noticeable on immediate inspection, but causes severe damage to the oak tree itself.

Lightning damage may also be seen in a range of forms, when visible from the outside. Lightning scars, which are black, singed-looking streaks down the oak tree, and loss of bark are two mild signs of this phenomenon.

Other external signs might be much more immediately noticeable, like the oak tree’s bark may be stripped off. Due to the way lightning strikes usually hit, this appears as spiral-shaped peels.

The North Carolina Cooperative Extension even details that a tree struck by lightning might burst into flames and explode. So, there is every level of damage possible- from internal and severe to external and less damaging to external and very severe.

Now that you know what to look for to see if your oak tree may have been (or was) struck by lightning, let’s talk about the odds of this happening.

What Are the Chances Of An Oak Tree Getting Struck by Lightning?

Old tree trunk struck by lightning, nature background.

While trees, namely oaks, are common targets of lightning strikes, there is not much available research about how often exactly this occurs. 

With about 100 lightning strikes hitting earth each second, your oak tree could be a conductor of lightning one of these days.

A piece from the University of Georgia proves it is difficult to pin down an exact probability, but that a tree’s topographic location, height, and relative proximity to other structures all play a large role in assessing the risk of it getting struck.

It is not as common for oak trees to die from a lightning strike, so keep it in mind as you consider this. Your tree has a chance of getting struck, but there are many potential outcomes.

What To Do When Lightning Strikes Your Oak Tree

It’s all well and good to know about what is involved in preparing for a natural catastrophe like this, from checking your insurance to knowing what to look for when you suspect your oak tree has been struck, but the after is also crucial.

If your oak tree has been struck by lightning, there are many steps you can take to ensure that, when possible, the oak tree recovers and can thrive once again. Trees, especially oaks, are resilient and adaptable. It is important to learn how to help them as they learn to rely on themselves again.

Luckily, there are plenty of ways to help your tree as long as it is not damaged beyond repair. Helping with the upkeep that it would usually take care of by itself is going to be one of the biggest factors when working to support your tree’s life force regeneration.

Make Sure Your Oak Tree Gets Enough Water

One of the biggest detriments to an oak tree being able to begin its self-healing process is when the tree does not have enough water. Lightning striking the tree works to pull some of the moisture content from the tree itself, both in its roots and the sap that runs through the tree.

Some of the biggest damages to an oak tree comes in the form of losing liquid. This also happens to be one of the biggest reasons the tree is struck by lightning in the first place. 

As we have mentioned, oak trees are great conductors of lightning because of their height in relation to both the ground below them and to other structures such as buildings, cars, and people. 

The other reason is oak trees are such a great conductor of this electric current, and it all has to do with the same sap and water that are pulled from the oak tree during the strike. The moisture of these things draws lightning to the tree because it offers a path of least resistance. 

So, watch out for the water your oak tree is getting as it works to heal. Its biggest life force attracted the destruction in the first place, so your tree deserves all the rehydration it can get!

In addition to water, it’s very important that your oak tree gets proper sunlight as well.

Add Fertilizer To Your Oak Tree

Close up of oak tree wait for fertilizer in the park.

If you are not sure what else to do as you attempt to keep your oak tree alive, add fertilizer into the mix.

Using fertilizer, along with the water you should already give your oak extra of, will help give your oak tree the nutrients needed to see fresh growth and revitalization. 

While the sap and moisture were stripped from the oak tree, so were other important nutrients.

Along with this, lightning strikes zap the energy out of a oak tree, which makes healing and eventual new growth a challenging feat when the tree is left alone to undertake it. 

Fertilizer offers very important nutrients that help the oak tree rebuild energy to continue its journey back to being a solid, viable organism.

This Miracle-Gro Garden Soil for Trees and Shrubs will help you stimulate your tree as you work to get it to the next spring and hope to see new growth. Not only is this product highly affordable, so you don’t have to stress about a struggling tree and costs, but it is also fortified with important minerals like phosphorus and iron.

To learn more about using fertilizer for your oak tree, check out our article: 3 Best Oak Tree Fertilizers (and How to Use Them).

Trim Dead Branches Off Your Oak Tree

Help your oak tree, both literally and figuratively, lose the dead weight by trimming any dead or dying branches. This is best done in the winter months because it is going to help catalyze new, healthy growth the oak tree desperately needs to remain viable. 

Most oak trees struck by lightning just need to make it to the next spring. Though it is not 100% guaranteed, any trees able to survive a lightning strike and then survive well enough to bloom new buds will make it in the long run.

You can also regularly trim your oak tree to stimulate growth and take care of any dead branches at any time, whether or not your tree is healing. By practicing this healthy maintenance, you take some stress off of your oak tree and allow it to flourish!

You’ll want to trim your oak trees sooner than later after a lightning strike, but it’s always best to trim oak trees during the winter or early spring. You can learn more about best oak trimming practices in our article: Best Time To Trim Oak Trees + Trimming Calendar And Tips.

Monitor Your Oak Tree

Along with the common tactics you will follow to ensure your oak tree can get back on the right track, just checking in is an important aspect of the road to recovery. 

By regularly observing your oak tree, you will have an idea of its progress, whether it is improving (we hope!) or declining (an unfortunate possibility).

Keep in mind not every tree is salvageable after a lightning strike. Do not blame yourself if your oak tree looks healthier and then slips back into decline. Such is the nature of… well, nature.

Most oak trees live to be 100-150 years old, so adding these tips can help that process, especially when the tree is struck by lightning. To learn more about specific types of oak tree general lifespan, read our article: How Long Do Live Oak Trees Live? Lifespan for All Common Types.

Wrapping It Up!

Now that we’ve learned a little more about what lightning is, how it can affect an oak tree, signs lightning struck your tree, and how to save it, all that’s left is to hope this does not happen to your tree.

If lightning has struck your oak tree, remember to evaluate the status of your tree’s wellbeing, give it extra water and fertilizer, and trim any dead branches as it embarks on its process of recovery.

When an oak tree is struck by lightning, it might die. This is always a possibility, but not nearly as probable as one might expect. If you take care of your oak tree following the strike, there is a good chance it will return to at least a version of its healthy self. 

Caring for an oak tree after a lightning strike takes work, but it will be clear to see whether your tree appears to be improving. If you do not see any improvement, it may be time to consider removal. If improvement continues, there is an increased chance your tree will make a recovery.

We hope this has helped you understand why lightning is attracted to trees, why and how it can be so detrimental, and what to look for if you think your tree has been targeted by this event.

If your oak tree has or may have been struck by lightning, remember to take the steps:

  • Help the oak tree rehydrate as much as possible
  • Fertilize the soil around your oak tree to stimulate regrowth 
  • Trim any dead branches to allow the oak tree’s energy to be focused on growing new buds
  • Check your oak tree once in a while to see how its progress is going

For now, thank you for reading!

References

Defandorf, F. M. (1955). A tree from the viewpoint of lightning. Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences, 45(11), 333-339.

Gora, E. M., Bitzer, P. M., Burchfield, J. C., Schnitzer, S. A., & Yanoviak, S. P. (2017). Effects of lightning on trees: A predictive model based on in situ electrical resistivity. Ecology and Evolution, 7(20), 8523-8534.

Taylor, A. R. (1965). Diameter of lightning as indicated by tree scars. Journal of Geophysical Research70(22), 5693-5694

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