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The day that changed the Tatra mountains for good

The windstorm damaged 12,000 hectares of woods on November 19, 2004.

Tatras after the 2004 calamity(Source: Sme - Ján Krošlák)

November 19, 2004 was a “Black Friday”, changing the image of the Tatras for good.

On that afternoon, a massive cold front arrived in the Tatra mountains, accompanied by extremely strong wind which amounted to a hurricane. This falling mountain wind is called bora by experts. Thirteen years ago, the bora named Alžbeta (Elizabeth), which occurred in two succeeding phases, left fatal consequences on the Tatra vegetation and changed its image forever.

The original forest ceased to exist

The Tatra forest in which spruces prevail, especially at the foot of the mountains, ceased to exist in just a few hours. The wind uprooted or broke 12,000 hectares of woods, mostly in the Tatra National Park (TANAP), in a belt of more than 30 kilometres.

A wind calamity of such an extent had not been recorded in Tatras previously though a similar one is mentioned in archives, dating back to 1915.

People reacted very emotionally – the symbol of the Tatras, as well as the typical climate, was suddenly gone. Fundraising started immediately. Experts pointed out that a similar calamity should have been expected at one point or another: the man-made spruce could hardly resist a wind of such a force. In the following years, it turned out that the whole landscape in and around the High Tatras changed. The forests impact the whole environmental system.

Impacts still felt today

Apart from material damage, amounting to hundreds of millions of then-Slovak crowns, one life perished in the disaster – a driver was hit and killed by one of the falling trees.

After this calamity, there were several smaller windstorms that destroyed the remaining woods. Vast fires and bark beetle infestation could not have been avoided, either.

The latter plague still stirs up disputes between foresters who insist that if bark beetles are discovered, trees must be logged massively to prevent further spreading and bigger damage.

Environmentalists, on the other hand, argue that bark beetles have been here ever since, coming in cycles, and without human intervention, forests are well able to handle them and regenerate on their own. The ensuing dispute has grown into a true political and media fight, including accusations, lawsuits, amendments to laws and directives, exceptions and exceptions from exceptions.

Ultimately, compromises and agreements were achieved: parts of Tatras were processed by experts, and parts were left to manage on their own.

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