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Why Are Trees Exploding During Texas' Freezing Storms?

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Jack Dunhill

Social Media Coordinator and Staff Writer

clockFeb 7 2022, 14:50 UTC
snowstorm

Austin, Texas during last year's storms. Image Credit: ChangJr LIN/Shutterstock.com

As Texas experiences the worst winter storms since last year’s infamous "Texas freeze", an ominous sound can be heard – loud pops, similar to gunshots, ring out all through the night. However, these sounds don’t originate from guns, but trees. As they freeze, trees are literally exploding. 

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“We listened to them all night. Sounds like gunshots going off,” said Princeton resident Lauren Reber, speaking to NBCDFW.  

“All of a sudden you just hear a great bang and they take out two or three more trees with it.”

Exploding trees is not a new phenomenon, but it is one that many are unfamiliar with. As temperatures fall, tree sap begins to freeze and expand within the trees’ branches, generating huge pressure on the internal structure. With nowhere to go and pressures reaching breaking point, the branches of the tree – and sometimes, the entire tree itself – will explode, sending fragments flying and huge branches falling to the ground. 

At extremely low temperatures, large trees can split vertically, making for a dramatic natural thermometer that suggests you should probably stay inside with a nice cup of hot chocolate today. 

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These explosions were actually recognized by First Nations people, such as the Sioux of The Dakotas and the Cree, who called the first new moon of the New year the "Moon of the Cold-Exploding Trees". 

During last week’s storm, temperatures plummeted far below freezing, eliminating power lines and causing residents all over Texas to hunker down as the worst blows over. Falling trees have taken out roads and infrastructure, and though the grid appears to be holding more successfully than in 2021, 70,000 Texans were left without power on Thursday as the storm continues to surge through the state.  


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