We’ve had four seasons in one this winter in Sydney, this just goes to show you never know what to expect when it comes to mother nature. One thing we all share is that we are at the behest of mother nature and her weather. During a thunderstorm, have you ever wondered what happens down at ground level where the lightning strike takes place? Well we have the pictures to show you what happens here at Centennial Parklands.

It’s a proven fact that standing under a tree is one of the most dangerous places to be in a storm. And for a good reason – trees protrude from the earth’s surface, making them frequent victims of direct lightning strikes. Electricity is forever trying to get to ground via the path of least resistance. Trees are a great medium for lightning to achieve this task.

Interesting things happen when lightning strikes a tree. Some trees escape completely unharmed by a direct hit, while others sustain moderate to heavy damage. Death of the tree is common in the latter instance.


When lightning strikes…

What exactly happens when lightning strikes a tree depends upon several factors, including what kind of tree it is, how much moisture it contains, the overall health of the tree at the time of the strike, and the intensity of the strike.

When lightning strikes a tree, it superheats the moisture in the vascular cambium, which is the live tissues in the outer layer of the tree located underneath the bark. This process happens so fast that the steam and gasses have no means of escape and can cause the tree to explode, sometimes sending pieces of bark and wood more than 50 meters!

Around 15,000 trees grow in Centennial Parklands. Over the past year, we have recorded three major lightning strikes on mature trees in the Parklands but unfortunately it has left these trees in an unsafe condition and therefore they have had to be removed for public safety reasons.

As arborists, we will forever be in awe of the forces applied to trees by mother nature and a trees ability to cope with extreme weather (most of the time)!



Populus deltoides (Cottonwood), Paperbark Ave Lang Road slopes. Non-fatal lighting strike. Evidence of path of lightning to ground can be seen spiraling from branch hit to ground where vascular tissues have been burnt and bark split. Occurred November 2013.


Araucaria heterophylla (Norfolk Island Pine), corner of Loch Ave South & Grand Drive. Lightning struck this tree and split its stem about half way down the trunk, causing head to split out and fail. Debris was thrown up to 30m away. Occurred December 2016.


Araucaria heterophylla (Norfolk Island Pine). Base and top of tree mentioned above.


Araucaria cunninghammii (Hoop Pine), Lang Road slopes, Centennial Park. Non-fatal lighting strike initially. Years later the head failed in strong winds at wound caused by lightening blow out. Occurred June 2017.


Pinus pinaster (Maritime Pine), middle of Centennial Park Central Pine Grove. Single tree was hit and electricity passed through the roots and killed neighbouring seven trees. Lightning caused vascular tissues of stem to cauterise and the resins to crystalise, killing all those affected. Photo shows a cross section of the stem with discouloured outer tissues and an aerial shot of trees killed by lightning strike. Occurred August 2015.


Araucaria heterophylla on the corner of Grand Drive and Dickens Drive South. Contractors removing the split top of the pine.


The above examples are just a few of the trees where lightning strikes have been obvious However, there are many other trees that have been hit and which remain alive, optimising themselves to keep growing and witness many more thunderstorms.

Mother nature can be beautiful and it can also be scary so make sure you stay safe when in the Park and don’t stand under a tree during a storm.

Do you know what to do in a thunderstorm?

Centennial Parklands is a beautiful outdoor destination in Sydney, however from time-to-time we are at the mercy of the elements. When a Sydney thunderstorm hits, it’s often not the rain and wind, but lightning strikes that can become a risk. It is important to know how to respond for your safety, and the safety of others.

Whether you’re visiting our open spaces, a golfer playing at Moore Park Golf, a footballer playing on a sports field, a cyclist heading around our roads, or just out for a walk in the park, we encourage you to read our blog on things you need to know when lightning strikes. Remember there is less than 30 seconds between when you see a flash of lightning and hear thunder then you should take shelter or move inside. Find out more here.


by Michael Wilenski and Peter Butler, Centennial Parklands’ Arborists


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