Utilizing Storm Wood

By Anna Simet | June 28, 2013

Last weekend, a nasty thunderstorm rolled through Bismarck, N.D., where I live. Although it didn’t last very long, winds gusted up to 80 miles per hour (bringing with it hail and lots of rain).

I spent part of Sunday picking up branches strewn about my backyard, but I didn’t leave the house, so I  was unaware of how much damage the storm did throughout the city. My husband later told me that some of the main streets were nearly impassable because of downed trees.

On Monday when I went for a jog—the path I run goes a long ways through some woods, a park and a softball complex—this is what I ran into:

I stepped into the woods and around it, but behind it was nothing but the same. Huge downed tree after downed tree. So I turned around, and in the distance I could see some workers unloading equipment to get started on the clean-up process.

That got me thinking about how much work goes cleaning up after bad storms—we’re talking some hard, hands-on labor, often in sweltering heat—and this was just a ten-minute storm in Bismarck, N.D. Also, of course, the huge amount of resulting wood. With the recent storm events in Oklahoma, it’s hard to fathom how many trees were taken down. I read that the resulting debris of wood, crushed glass, etc., would reach one mile high if piled up.

The next couple of days those workers were still out there on my running path, but they had turned most of the down trees into huge piles of chips—I’m sure for use as mulch and landscaping material around the city. I didn’t think there was any wood-using power facilities in or near Bismarck (I’ve read of some power facilities making deals with the city to take in storm debris), and I later confirmed that. It’s definitely coal and oil country out here.

My point here is that heat and power is great use for wood resulting from storms—or in a broader scope, natural disasters—when feasible. A few years back, my colleague Ron Kotrba wrote an article titled “Dealing with Disaster Debris,” and it investigated what was done after events such as Hurricane Katrina and 9/11, and how a lack of established protocol—and red tape—resulted in a lot of useable wood being wasted.

 There is a big difference in wood resulting from a bad hurricane verses a powerful thunderstorm, though, as hurricane-derived wood is often dirty and wet and mixed in with lots of other debris.

These kinds of instances may also extend an opportunity for portable power units to come into play. The July issue of Biomass Magazine—which we just finished up—is themed small-scale and community biomass projects, and in it you’ll find a feature article by staff writer Chris Hanson titled “Rise of the Portables.” The story features discussion with companies specializing in mobile power units, describes where the market for that technology is at today and where it’s headed.

Whether storm wood is being used to make power, a campfire in someone’s backyard or for landscaping, it’s just good to see it being utilized instead of slowly rotting away in landfills.