The Treepocalypse of Benny Smith

One everyman's frustrating experience with our punishing weather

Ask Benny Smith how he's fared through the storms this year, and he'll groan and ask, "Which ones?"

Smith, the general manager of WUTK, 90.3 FM, lives in Norwood, and his recent experiences will sound familiar to a lot of Knoxvillians. "I've been around here a long time, and I've sure not had to put up with this kind of stuff," he says.

The spring started out on a happy note for him—he had finally gotten a new roof put on his house in the northwest Knoxville neighborhood. Then, a few weeks later, the first savage storms of April hit. Smith was at a T-ball game with his 5-year-old daughter, and they were huddling from the rain under the scorer's roof when his phone rang. "My neighbor was like, ‘You need to get here as soon as you can, you've got two trees down in your backyard,'" Smith says. But, the neighbor added, "Your roof's okay."

Sure enough, when Smith made it home, he found lights out across the neighborhood and his fence row flattened. The power didn't come back for a few days, so he sent his daughter to stay with her grandmother. There was another problem, too: A red oak that went down landed on power lines, blew the transformers, and spewed hazardous transformer oil across Smith's yard. KUB crews came out twice to remove large patches of contaminated topsoil.

Then came the middle of June. On the evening of the 21st, Smith and his daughter were at a friend's house when the first, short burst hit. In the succeeding calm, they drove back to Norwood, dodging felled trees on the way. By the time they reached their house, the skies had turned dark again. "I grabbed her, we go inside and grab flashlights," Smith says. On their way to hide in a closet (something his daughter, like many Knoxville children, has grown newly accustomed to this year), "I took a look outside and everything was sideways," Smith says. And then he heard it: a loud BOOM. Something big had fallen on something else. Smith had to wait until the wind subsided before he could go to a window and look. What he saw was an 80-foot silver maple that had fallen uphill across his driveway, squarely on top of "a 2001 Ford Ranger that I'd hoped to keep for the rest of my life."

The next day he got to play the game of rental-car roulette that has become part of the local market this year. The first rental-car place he went to had already rented all their vehicles. The second one had lost its electricity and couldn't do any business. As he drove one of the last available cars away from the third agency he visited, he passed a line of soon-to-be-frustrated would-be renters arriving.

"Three trees in one spring," Smith says, shaking his head. "It's either in front of us, behind us, or on us."

The one bright spot: That last tree snagged a bit of his guttering, he says, but—he looks around for some wood to knock—his roof is still intact.