What to look for in trees at risk of toppling as heavy rain continues to impact DC region

Loved ones and neighbors are still in shock after a massive tree came down on a Northern Virginia home and killing a woman inside.

It happened in Burke Monday night and the tragedy has neighbors concerned about trees up against their own properties.

"My husband and I may very well sleep in the lower level of our home tonight," said Karen Anthony, who lives in a neighboring tree-lined community.

"This is bad," added Anthony. "This is very sad."

Neighbors told FOX 5 they moved to the area because of the trees. But with the surrounding natural beauty comes risk - especially in times of torrential rain.

Experts said sleeping at the lower level of your home and away from the tree side is a good idea if you are nervous about big trees on your property.

They also advise people to check for dead limbs on the tree. Peel back the bark - if it's green underneath, it's healthy. But if it's brown, it's dead. Also look for decay at the base near the roots. That is another indication of a dying tree.

But Jerry Dieruf with TerraGreen Independent Consulting Arborists told FOX 5 most of the problems around Northern Virginia aren't tree failure.

"A lot of what we are seeing now is soil failure," Dieruf explained. "The soil has become so saturated, and the tree has such a big canopy and catches so much sail from the wind and the storms, that the soil can no longer hold the root system."

And it's a common misconception that the age of the tree plays a role.

"There is a component of size and exposure," he added. "So if you have got a big oak tree and it's bigger than the trees around it, then it's going to catch more wind and pressure from the storm."

Just like in this fatal case, Dieruf said he saw mostly Red Oaks coming down in earlier storms this year, mainly in March. Neighbors also told FOX 5 they have seen damage from fallen trees before, but this is the first that has led to a death.

When looking for an expert to assess your property, Dieruf advises to seek out a certified arborist who is a qualified tree risk assessor.