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Garden Update #5: Death By Microburst

Posted by kevinwolz on June 22, 2010

After working in the garden all day yesterday, the title of this update was going to be “In Full Swing” since the garden was truly full of life. However, early last night as I was unpacking the car, the winds began to pick up. I admit, my extreme lack of faith in meteorologists kept me dubious of even any rainfall. Nevertheless, the gusts quickly turned into “swirls”…lightening ensued…countless limbs and trees came down…the power went out…flash floods rose…and the 1” hail started…all within a matter of seconds. Checking the radio, I was informed of a tornado straight west of me heading east at 30 mph. This is where the adrenaline really kicked in. I closed up the house, blasted the car radio for updates, and headed to the basement, where I remained for a few minutes.

Luckily, the tornado missed us, but within 5 minutes of the hail starting there was a 10” “drift” outside my front door. It was flying essentially horizontal and was pouring so fast off the roof that it looked like water. Minor damages were sustained on the car before I could get it inside, and a light pole came down. The house survived. My garden, however, did not. The hail mowed, shredded, or defoliated EVERYTHING. The pictures can speak for themselves.


Naturally Shredded?


I’ve given the crops their day of mourning, and now, I’ve decided not to let this set me back. It really sucks, but I can’t let it consume me. So here’s the plan: I will give the garden a few days for any wounded survivors to show themselves while I more fully assess the situation. Any obvious goners (snapped at the base) and loose foliage will be removed, eating anything that’s remotely edible. Then, I’ll replant all available space with whatever heat-loving-fast-growing plants that I deem appropriate and have at my disposal. Not optimal, but it’s my only option.

I learned several important lessons through this experience. First, windbreaks are extremely important, especially when near an open body of water. Second, Mother Nature is still in control, even of our food. Third, if you ever say something like “Wow, that Swiss chard looks so good, but I think I’ll give one more day and get it tomorrow,” don’t do it! Pick it, eat it, and enjoy it!

Every corn and bean field within a mile from our house was also completely decimated by the hail. I can’t say if I felt sad or happy by this sight, but that’s another story. Regardless, it was very interesting to see how all the fields outside this mile or so radius were perfectly fine…leading me to the conclusion that our little area did indeed receive quite the special show of Mother Nature’s powerful talents.

I want to quickly mention the relationship of this microburst and climate change. While it is completely unscientific and inappropriate to blame any specific storm or weather event on climate change, since, quite obviously, these constitute WEATHER, it IS scientific and appropriate to relate TRENDS and PATTERNS in these events to climate change, since, quite obviously, these constitute CLIMATE. That said, I had never experienced hail before until two very extreme situations within the last month. This is just personal observation, but I am sure that the year-end tabulations will show increased frequency in these extreme weather events, just as it has in recent years. Scientists agree that it is this increased frequency of weather extremes (e.g. huge storms, prolonged droughts), and not necessarily drastic changes in overall precipitation, that will be and are caused by climate change. So, without blaming this particular storm on climate change, let me use it as an example. Just think about what our world would be like if extreme weather events like this become even more frequent…as in, once a week. Will we be able to grow food? Will we be able to drive to work? Will we survive at all?

We may find out sooner than you think: repeat storms are scheduled for the next two days. Take cover.


6 Responses to “Garden Update #5: Death By Microburst”

  1. Roger said

    Kevin, I might give some plants more then a few days because they have such a good root base. You can still plant around them as a back up, but I would wait a week or two, to see if plants send out new leaves or side shoots. Rog

  2. Joan said


    So sad to see pictures of your garden. I like your thoughts of eat what you can salvage NOW.

    It was good news that you weren’t ON THE ROAD when this happened. At least YOU and YOUR HOUSE were spared.
    Could have been a lot worse. You can always replant….still time!


  3. sheril said

    Oh my Kevin!! You really did get hit!! I heard that there were swirling clouds over the river. I thought of you through the storm hoping you were safe and hoping you had a basement to take cover. I was at my sisters with a group of young adults deciding on whether to go to Frosty Freeze. I came hope because Schultz gets a little scared in thunder, but not bad. Then the phone rang constant. I left my home open for the group of youngin’s, but they went somewhere else. I normally don’t take cover as I love to see the power of mother nature and I feel such energy from her. But I admit I went to the basement and remained calm as to not alarm the dogs. I grabbed my water and the computer. I have satelite TV and just when you need it most the signal goes out. So I watched on the computer. The water was pelting so hard I thought the windows in the kitchen were breaking. I thought I heard hail, ran upstairs to see it, but it was just water. Our road was so flooded that the water was lapping in the middle of the church parking lot. The gutters on the roads looked like fast rushing streams.
    I have a feeling that some of your produce will still grow and may have scars. I feel for you because it know this is your first garden. This is probably the reason it is good to have sustainable communities!!! So that when I storm hits one and not the other we can trade goods and sevices so no one starves.
    Be hopeful!
    I don’t know if this is climate change or if it is that natural trend of things. Could be either in my opinion. But what I do know is that the natural changes are occur more rapid due to our carlessness as humans. If mother nature gets mad enough at us for abusing her we might become extinct!!! I can’t help but think what the oil spill has disrupted besides poluting everything. The release of that pressure is huge. Just a hunch. But when we tip the balance something is going to happen!!!!

    Good luck with the garden. I will have to get you some delicious basil ice cream to drown your sorrows in!!

  4. onestraw said

    Dude this is awful. I hope that you are surprised at how much things bounce back. In organic farming we have learned that as much as 30% defoliation by pests has little impact on yeild; if the stalks aren’t snapped you should bounce back. All that lightning recharged (snicker) the soil and with all the water the plants are in a good position to rebound.

    Fingers crossed!

  5. Victoria Johnson said

    KEVIN: Those of us that just casually accept the bounty of a farmer’s hard work and hopes of a great crop, don’t realize until someone you know tells of an experience such as you had! WOW! Knowing so little about producing edible crops, ‘I’ think you should follow the advice of some of your friends — wait a bit before giving up on the battered plants!! Since we all agree Mother Nature is in charge, your experience might be the way she gets her points cross — SLOW HIM DOWN — THEN, lets see how Kevin handles a set-back like this — and we ALL know YOU appreciate what farmers go through each year as they watch the sky (or listen to the weatherman )–I think they should refer to the old FARMERS’ ALMANAC! Do you have one?? It makes interesting reading!!

    • Ellen said

      That was grim, Kevin… I realize that even on the Rock River, where I’ve situated extra squash plants in containers some 20 yards from the river, there can be quite a wind.

      I agree about giving the plants time…I see that even some of our string bean plants, heartily nibbled by earwigs, are starting to bounce back, and I will apply a sprinkle of diatomacious earth to prevent further damage.

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