A Hailstorm for the Record Books - You Just Can't Prepare for That
The degenerative practices of farmers and ranchers over a century or more have caused immeasurable harm to local diverse ecosystems, including the loss of several feet of topsoil. Regenerating our lands isn't an option, in my opinion, it's a necessity.
NOTE:It's been a long week. Another Joe missed posting articles this week, due to some unexpected (and uninvited) surprises. So, while I've tried to keep up with my feed, I've not contributed much content. You'll see why pretty quickly though.
It was these practices that helped enable the effects of the Dustbowl, for instance. We see the results around our little farming valley, with many ranches surrounding us in the hills and mountains where plows dare not take on the rocky ground.
With this in mind, it's no surprise that I've been working on my own property to try to show some of the things that can be done. It's a typical town town parcel, so I can't really do much to show farmers and ranchers what can be done. But we do take steps to keep the rain that falls on our property here. Only the driveway lets the rain make it to the street. And we make sure our soil is healthy and set on a regenerative path. But we've also pursued doing so with some elegance and style, especially out front.
When we first moved in, the weeds wouldn't even grow. Whether it was from incessant spraying, soil compaction or both, I really couldn't say. Digging in the yard was a lot of work, requiring a tamping bar and pick instead of just a shovel and/or post-hole digger.
Now I can simply stand on the shovel and it goes in, almost everywhere in the yard. Recently I was trenching to put in some French drain hose, in order to move irrigation across the property without exposing it to evaporation. The digging was really quite easy. This particular effort was in order to promote more soil health in our backyard, where I've done very little.
Looking For Rain
We were supposed to get a little rain that evening, but it never came. So, over the next week, I'd go out and chase the birds off once in awhile. And I was digging a trench and laying out where I wanted more. Most of these were marked with white paint, plus flags showing where paths and row crops would be.
As this past weekend approached, wifey told me that we should be getting rain. Well, there wasn't a cloud in the sky, but it happens that way often enough that I figured it could still build up in a few hours. Friday night came and went with no sign of rain, but the humidity was notably higher. As Saturday wore on, the humidity was still noticeable, but the few small clouds we saw didn't seem to indicate rain.
In our area you get used to this. The clouds will build up and dump on the mountains on a regular basis in what's known as the orographic effect. But if they don't come down into the valley by later afternoon or early evening, we usually don't get rain. If it does make it down, it can be anything from a light sprinkle to a dangerous downpour accompanied by flash-floods and supercells. Once in a great while we'll get a little hail too.
Saturday seemed like any other day in that regard. I guess that's the way these things are. I teased wifey about thinking it was going to rain, as the evening gave way to night. She just shrugged, used to my tormenting.
Later that evening, perhaps 10pm or so, as I worked on some project here at the computer, I was startled by one of those thunder crashes that isn't just a rumbling, but a distinct CRRRRACK! that you can feel in your chest. When I heard it, I kinda chuckled at the thought that wifey would get her rain, along with the opportunity to return my harassment, perhaps double-fold.
Sometimes You Just Can't Expect the Unexpected
The rain started, and came down fairly hard, but without the winds. It was a great rain, providing enough to really soak the ground without running off.
It seemed the storm had passed, but then it started coming back on again, perhaps around 11pm. This time it was accompanied by a pretty good hail storm, with hail that was probably about marble sized (5mm or so). We'd seen that before, so it wasn't much to worry about. It was probably just enough to cover the ground one layer deep, but then it let up and gave way to a gentle rain.
We watched a bit, then went back about our business, thinking that would be the worst of it. Typically, it is. Once you've had the hail, you've received the brunt of the storm. It's the violent updrafts that cause hail to form. But, of course, you can't know exactly what's happening in the clouds above your head, especially at night.
Before I make this next statement, let me add this caveat. I've lived in diverse places and experienced some of what nature has to offer. I've not been in a terrible situation, but I have seen its effects and had some struggles. Here in Arizona it's mostly supercells that can rip a roof off, flash-floods and a very rare tornado. These are seasonal too, so we tend to be prepared for them.
I've spent time in Chile, experiencing over a dozen earthquakes. I've not been in a large one, but have woken in the night to my bed banging against the wall. We lived in Texas, where I saw a tornado and we often experienced gustnadoes, even strong enough to flip over a pivot on the farm where we lived. I've seen the result of a roof flying through the air and cutting down a power pole and tree before settling a couple hundred feet away. A ditch 10' deep can be turned to 20' deep in a matter of hours, in the right condition. This happened at granny's house years ago. I have not experienced a volcano or hurricane.
What happened next was probably the most concerning, if not frightening, natural experience I've ever had.
About midnight, the hail started coming down harder. It was loud, like a small army on the roof with little hammers. It wasn't driven by a lot of wind, but was at just enough of an angle to hit the side of the house. And it almost seemed to have a pulse, getting stronger, then subsiding a little, only to get stronger and subside a little.
Our house is old, but it's held up to repeated storm seasons for decades. But this was different, so I started walking around watching for signs that the roof had failed. Then the power went out. Of course, the power has to go out in these situations, right?
The hail is still coming down, but with a few pots under the drips, maybe we'll be able to sit it out. Then something happened that we've never had happen before - water started gurgling out of the wall that separates our bedroom and master-bath. It's not just getting wet, but you can see it bubbling up where the wall and floor meet at the door-jam. And it's bubbling up fast, swamping the bathroom in an inch of water in no time.
The hail won't stop! It's relentlessly beating the crap out of your roof. Will it hold? We don't build for snow-loads here, but I know that our roof is level enough in that area to hold the ice as it accumulates.
We get towels around to to keep it local as I start trying to squeegee the water into the shower. It's working, kinda, but our dam wasn't as effective as I thought so now wifey is trying to catch it in the closet.
Finally, the hail stops, but the rain doesn't. So we have this load of ice on the roof even as the rain continues to pound.
The surroundings are surreal. I'm standing in six inches of hailstones, many the size of golf-balls. There's no time to really look at it though. I go to the gate, wrestle with it to get the hail to budge and let me through, then clear enough in front of the garage door to get in.
Trying to hurry, I grab the smaller shop-vac and head inside. It's soon apparent that it can't keep up. The water continues building, even as more leaks appear. "Please God, don't let our roof cave in."
As wifey works the vacuum in the closet, I head out to get the bigger one. It's a pain, because we hadn't used it in a while. But I eventually get it and am able to start working on the bathroom. A couple more leaks have shown up.
By now it's probably 1am. The storm is finally letting up, as is the geyser in the floor. Now we're able to get mops and really get the floor cleaned up. As wifey gets the last of that taken care of, I start moving belongings out of the way, some that were dry but might get wet and some that are already wet, sorting them into piles accordingly.
Once that's accomplished, I sit back and think for a moment before heading outside to take a look. Here's some of what I saw.
Hail makes for some crazy driving
There was still a lot to clean up, but we were running out of gas and it was apparent that the storm had moved on - at least we hoped so. We finally hit the sack, trusting that the bed wouldn't get wet too, about 3:30am. We were pretty reluctant to get going the next day, but it came anyway. So, what do you do? You just get up and deal with it. I headed out to examine the damage more closely. Here's some of what I saw.
I apologize for the orientation of some of the photos. Lately WordPress, where I store my images, hasn't been loading the data correctly. We'll have to let it go, but if you open the image in a separate window it'll be oriented correctly.
There were some bright spots though
Yum. We actually had a few tomatoes that made it, some under an eave
Will the trees recover? I think so. If they were more than a few months in the ground I'd be more confident. The large pecans will. Maybe we'll lose a couple of these younger ones, but I think most of them will recover. The difficulty, especially with some of the bark stripped off by the hail, is in knowing where and if I should cut them now, or wait to see what limbs don't survive. I'm leaning toward the latter.
The ceiling in our bedroom is sagging, so will need to be replaced. It's also pretty messed up in the kitchen, so I have my work cut out there too. But the rest of the interior, other than some painting, seems okay.
The roof... sigh...
This was a repossessed fixer-upper when we bought it. The goal was to work on it as we considered what our next step was. My goal was to move to Chile, and still is (we almost did two years ago, but... long story). But we needed to live somewhere, and wanted something super cheap. I'm pretty handy, so we found the cheapest repo we could that was still in good enough condition to live in (if barely).
We were told that the original part of the house, made of adobe, was built in the late 1800s. I haven't been able to confirm it, but property records indicate the possibility. But there wasn't a permit pulled until the 1950s, so who knows? And you can see where one addition was put on, then another, then another, so that continuity is a bit lost. This includes the roof.
Over the main part, which has the highest peak, as well as what appears to be the first addition, there remains an old shake roof. in fact, on the original part it's still just shake, with no underlayment. When you're in the attic, you can see daylight through the roof. But these swell when wet and are arranged so that rainfall sheets down nicely. They've held for decades, and have a charming look.
However, insurance companies hate them. So, when we insured the house it had a statement that the roof wouldn't be covered until I repaired it. Most insurance companies wouldn't touch it. Since our greatest concern is monsoon season, I figured there was no point and let the insurance lapse.
Where the latter additions are, the builders opted for tin. It's a great roof, but subject to pulling apart as the summer's heat and expands the metal, only to let it contract at night. The old leadheads were great for their time, but loosen with age. And seams that once were tight, begin splitting a bit.
We have our work cut out, plus a bit of expense. I can do the work, but it'll be slow going except on days I can get some help. And I'll have to do it in stages, according to what I can afford at the time. Doing a solid but very inexpensive job, I think I can keep all repairs, including the garage roof, needed wallboard, texture and paint, to below $5,000.
If the trees die, they are largely irreplaceable. Oh, I can plant new ones. But I can't get back the time invested to make them healthy. I'll have to start over. Of course, wherever annuals are pulverized, they're lost. Some seeds might be viable and come up next year. Annuals might come back well too, since they can grow back from the roots.
Clever Heading About Reflection on Life Here :)
As we start day six after the storm, we've had some time to reflect. Of course, if we could have anticipated this freak event, one that nobody around here has ever seen, coming, we'd had kept insurance, which might have helped with some of it. But there's really not much we would have done different.
We need to move forward and bounce back from this challenge. For me, that means starting on the roof - a little daunting. For wifey, that means going through everything that got wet and either repairing it or tossing it out. At least we'll be a little lighter on "stuff" when we're done.
Interestingly, the weeds are already showing their vibrance. That's not overly concerning, but may become overwhelming. On the other hand, as noted above, I put down cover crop seeds. So I'm hoping that they'll burst forth and I can mow the weeds just as the cover crops are catching their stride, so that they outgrow the various unwanted species.
That's kind of how life is, in many ways, isn't it? We deal with the challenges, attempt to weed out the disruptive aspects and give the productive aspects the advantage so that they take over. Other than the financial setback, which is pretty substantial for us, there are many ways in which we'll come back stronger. We'll certainly be more empathetic towards others facing similar challenges.
A Final Related Thought
As we struggled for a while against the ebb and flow, and the thunderous hail beating on our home, my thoughts went to the recent landfall of Matthew in Haiti, and how friends there had lost everything. I realized afresh how good we have it. Even if my roof came crashing down, as long as we weren't personally injured, we had other houses to go to. We could section off that portion and live in other parts of the house.
The loss they face in their poverty isn't really worth comparing to ours. Yes, we have to deal with it. Yes, it's pricey. But, compared to wondering where to lay your head at night because there is no more shelter for you, and wondering where your food source will come from a month from now, and striving to find drinkable water even when everything around you soaked, it's a somewhat benign challenge.
So we'll forge on, and continue praying for our friends in Haiti. My bigger dream will continue to be to regenerate the island of La Gonâve, in hopes of putting both land and people on a multi-generational regenerative path.
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