What are the common signs of tree risk detected in aerial assessments?

Aerial assessments play a crucial role in identifying potential tree risks. These assessments involve observing trees from an elevated vantage point, such as using drones or climbing equipment, to detect signs of instability or hazards. By conducting aerial assessments, arborists and tree experts can identify common indicators of tree risk, including dead or dying branches, leaning trees, visible decay, cracks in the trunk, and signs of insect infestation or disease. In this guide, Midwest Tree Surgeon INC helps in mitigating potential dangers posed by trees, ensuring safety for properties and individuals in their vicinity.

Dead Branches

Dead branches are a significant hazard, especially when they are large or positioned over structures, walkways, or roads. During aerial assessments, arborists look for deadwood pruning that could potentially fall and cause injury or property damage. These branches often lack leaves and may appear brittle or dry. In some cases, dead branches may still be attached to the tree but are clearly lifeless.

Dead branches are not only unsightly but also indicate potential weakness in the tree’s overall health. They can be caused by disease, pest infestations, or physical damage. Trees shed dead branches naturally as part of their growth cycle, but excessive deadwood can be a sign of stress or decline.

Cracks or Splits

Visible cracks or splits in the trunk or major limbs of a tree are clear indicators of structural weakness. During aerial assessments, arborists carefully inspect the tree for any signs of cracking that could compromise its stability. Cracks can occur due to storm damage, sudden temperature changes, or internal decay.

Large cracks or splits can weaken the tree, making it susceptible to failure during high winds or heavy storms. Depending on the severity and location of the crack, arborists may recommend pruning or bracing to reduce the risk of branch or trunk failure. In extreme cases, the tree may need to be removed to prevent potential hazards.

Cavities or Decay

Hollow areas or decayed wood within the trunk or major limbs of a tree can significantly compromise its structural integrity. Aerial assessments allow arborists to detect cavities or decay that may not be visible from the ground. Decay can be caused by fungal infections, insect infestations, or physical injuries.

Cavities and decay weaken the tree’s ability to support itself, increasing the risk of branch or trunk failure. Arborists use various tools and techniques during aerial assessments to assess the extent of decay and determine the best course of action. Depending on the severity and location of the decay, options may include pruning, bracing, or removal.

Poor Tree Architecture

Trees with poor architecture are more prone to structural failure, especially during severe weather conditions. Aerial assessments allow arborists to evaluate the tree’s structure and identify potential weak points. Poor tree architecture includes included bark, multiple trunks, and weak branch attachments.

Included bark occurs when branches or stems grow too closely together, forming a weak attachment. This can lead to splitting or breaking during storms or heavy winds. Multiple trunks can cause instability, especially if they are not properly balanced. Weak branch attachments are another common issue, where branches are poorly attached to the main trunk, making them more likely to break.

Arborists assess these factors during aerial inspections to determine if corrective measures are needed to improve the tree’s structure and reduce the risk of failure. This may include tree pruning to remove weak branches, installing support cables, or even selective removal of trunks to promote a stronger structure.

Root Issues

Root damage or decay can affect the stability and health of a tree. Aerial assessments allow arborists to detect signs of root issues, such as root lifting or damage caused by construction activities. Healthy roots are essential for anchoring the tree and absorbing water and nutrients from the soil.

Root lifting occurs when the soil around the base of the tree is disturbed, causing the roots to become exposed or damaged. This can weaken the tree’s stability and increase the risk of uprooting during storms or heavy winds. Arborists look for signs of root damage, such as soil erosion, exposed roots, or changes in the tree’s posture.

During aerial assessments, arborists may use ground-penetrating radar or other tools to assess the health and structure of the tree’s roots. Depending on the extent of the damage, options may include root pruning, soil stabilization, or selective pruning to reduce the tree’s risk of failure.


Trees that are leaning significantly or have changed their lean over time can indicate potential structural issues. Aerial assessments allow arborists to evaluate the tree’s posture and determine if corrective measures are needed to improve stability. Leaning trees can be caused by wind exposure, root damage, or soil erosion.

Arborists assess the degree of lean and the direction of the lean to determine the best course of action. In some cases, pruning may be recommended to redistribute weight and reduce stress on the tree. In severe cases, support cables or braces may be installed to stabilize the tree and prevent potential hazards.

Disease or Pest Infestations

Signs of disease, fungal growth, or pest infestations can weaken a tree’s health and structural integrity. During aerial assessments, arborists look for symptoms such as leaf discoloration, abnormal growth patterns, or visible signs of pests like insect nests or webs. Disease and pests can compromise the tree’s ability to absorb water and nutrients, making it more susceptible to stress and structural failure.

Arborists identify the specific tree disease or pest affecting the tree and recommend appropriate treatment options. This may include pruning infected branches, applying insecticides or fungicides, or improving overall tree health through fertilization and soil management.

Proximity to Targets

Trees that are located near structures, utility lines, or high-traffic areas increase the risk of damage or injury if they were to fail. During aerial assessments, arborists evaluate the proximity of the tree to potential targets and assess the potential consequences of a failure. This includes calculating the likelihood of a tree falling and the impact it would have on surrounding objects or people.

Arborists may recommend pruning to reduce the tree’s size and weight, installing support cables or braces to improve stability, or even selective removal if the risk of failure is too high. Proper tree placement and maintenance are essential to minimize the risk of damage to nearby targets.

Recent Construction or Soil Changes

Changes to the surrounding soil or construction activities near the tree can affect its stability and health. During aerial assessments, arborists look for signs of soil compaction, erosion, or other changes that could impact the tree’s root system. Compacted soil restricts root growth and reduces the tree’s ability to absorb water and nutrients.

Arborists assess the impact of recent construction activities and recommend measures to mitigate potential risks. This may include aerating compacted soil, improving drainage, or installing barriers to protect the tree’s root zone. Proper soil management is crucial to maintaining the health and stability of trees in urban and suburban environments.


Windthrow refers to the uprooting or breaking of trees due to strong winds or storms. Aerial assessments allow arborists to evaluate the tree’s susceptibility to windthrow by assessing its root system, crown structure, and overall health. Trees with shallow root systems, poor anchorage, or structural weaknesses are more likely to be affected by windthrow.

Arborists identify potential risk factors and recommend measures to improve the tree’s stability. This may include pruning to reduce wind resistance, installing support cables or braces, or selecting more wind-resistant tree species for planting in high-risk areas. Proper tree maintenance and management can help reduce the risk of windthrow and ensure the safety of surrounding areas.

Previous Storm Damage

Evidence of previous storm damage, such as broken branches or scars on the trunk, can indicate potential weaknesses in the tree’s structure. During aerial assessments, arborists carefully inspect the tree for signs of old injuries that may have healed poorly or left the tree vulnerable to future damage.

Arborists assess the extent of previous storm damage and recommend appropriate measures to improve the tree’s health and stability. This may include pruning to remove weakened branches, installing support systems to reinforce damaged areas, or monitoring the tree for signs of continued stress or decline.

Age and Species Characteristics

The age and species characteristics of a tree can influence its susceptibility to certain risks, such as disease, pests, or structural failure. During aerial assessments, arborists consider the natural life cycle and growth habits of the tree species to identify potential risk factors.

Older trees may be more prone to decay and structural weakness, while certain species may be more susceptible to specific pests or diseases. Arborists assess the age and species characteristics of the tree and recommend appropriate management practices to maintain health and reduce risks.


In conclusion, aerial assessments are an invaluable tool for identifying tree risks and ensuring safety in various environments. By carefully observing signs such as dead branches, leaning trees, decay, cracks, and pest infestations from an elevated perspective, experts can take proactive measures to mitigate potential hazards. This proactive approach not only protects properties and individuals but also promotes the health and longevity of trees. Incorporating aerial assessments into tree care and management practices is essential for maintaining a safe and thriving environment while minimizing risks associated with tree-related incidents.

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