Usually a tree dies gradually, or falls over abruptly taking surrounding branches with it.  Rarely, therefore, is its space in the canopy easily viewed.  In the picture below, however, we have just such an instance.  This was an extremely healthy sugar maple until late last summer.  At that time it got struck by a major lightning bolt.  This blew bark off exposed roots, wilted the ground vegetation surrounding the tree, and left a foot to two foot wide spiral burn all the way down the trunk.  The burn was immediately obvious with patches of charred bark and exposed inner bark layers.  Because it was late in the summer, the tree’s early leaf drop was not immediately indicative of total death (in particular because Hurricane Irene had stripped many other trees).  It was, however, suggestive, as the leaves that dropped had a wilted appearance.

Taken about a week later, this shows the burn mark, some of the wilted ground vegetation, the creamy white object on the lower right in the bank is a root with the bark completely blown off.  The red is inner bark, the dark patches are actually charred sections.  Note the ash in the background has a healed lightning strike scar:

This picture, taken this summer, shows that the tree was immediately killed.  Buds are apparent on the highest branches, formed last summer, but never leafed out.  What is interesting is that many of the twigs are still there, by next year decay will have set in and the tree will have a ‘deader’ aspect, as opposed to the weird ‘winter tree in a summer scene’ appearance.   The dying branches beyond it belong to a large ash, which was already in decline.  It too has been affected by the strike and is far weaker this year.  The dead tips of the maple on the top right corner of the photo may have been caused by the strike, but may be due to the old age of the tree in question.

A close up: