If trees could talk they'd tell you it's been one hell of a year for them.

It all started last year as the Washington area suffered its worst spring drought since the National Weather Service began keeping records in 1871.

Then came the Feb. 23 snowstorm to end all snowstorms. So many tree limbs cracked under the pressure of mounds of snow that heavily wooded sections of the District looked like scenes from the Battle of Verdun.

And then this summer, just when it seemed that the trees were out of the woods, so to speak, the cicadas came calling.

John Byrne, superintendent of the George Washington Memorial Parkway, takes it all in stride, though, saying it is "part of a natural process that allows the strong trees to survive and the weak trees to die off."

After the Feb. 23 storm, which dumped up to 18 inches of wet snow on the metropolitan area and left thousands of homes and businesses without electricity, 850 trees along the scenic parkway "required major pruning or had to be cut down," he said. Many still have not been pruned five months later, he added.

"We've hired private {tree} contractors to help us catch up," he said. "We have nine tree workers, and not all those positions are filled. At the time of the storm there were more than 30 people working from other staffs helping to clear the damage."

According to area arborists, the worst snow damage in the Northern Virginia area occurred around Mount Vernon, particularly along the parkway, which runs from Washington's estate through Alexandria and north to the Capital Beltway beyond McLean.

The trees worst hit were Virginia cedars, they said.

"Damage from the snowstorm was worse for trees than the damage from the drought, primarily because you're looking at sometimes five years of growth being ripped from a tree when a top breaks off," said Brian Little, an arborist with the American Horticultural Society.

Other arborists disagreed, saying that last year's severe drought hit trees harder than any other natural phenomenon in several years.

"I really feel the drought caused more damage than the {snow} storm, because once you get drought damage it's harder for a tree to recover," said Hillard Ratliff, chief of maintenance for the parkway.

"A drought happens slowly, and a tree recovers slowly from it. With storm damage, it happens fast and trees recover fast."

Ratliff, who has worked for the National Park Service in grounds maintenance for 27 years, said damage from a drought sometimes takes three years to show up, particularly in large trees.

"We think there are about 22 to 28 trees {on the parkway} that have died this year or are dying that will have to be removed due to the drought conditions last year," he said. "They're mostly large trees . . . . The oaks were the most affected," he added.

According to the National Weather Service, the normal rainfall for this area for March through May is 10.57 inches. But last year during that three-month spell, only 3.47 inches of rain was recorded -- an all-time low. The second-lowest recorded spring rainfall was 4.15 inches in 1915, followed by 4.51 inches in 1969.

During the 1986 drought, Park Service crews working the parkway increased their watering time for plants and trees from 160 hours to 800 hours per week.

"We'll water a tree that we plant for three years, and after that we won't water them," Byrne said. "If a tree doesn't make it on its own after three years, then we won't waste government dollars watering it."

Fairfax County arborist Richard Hoff said the cicadas -- which burrow into the ends of tree limbs, causing the tips to die and fall to the ground -- have been least damaging to large and old trees.