Tag Archives: weather

A Bit of Derecho History

It’s always interesting when you learn about something that suddenly pops up again. Last summer, while traveling through Minnesota, I visited the Forest History Center, where I learned about something called a “blowdown.” It was explained that a blowdown is a derecho that hits a heavily forested area, because it blows down all the trees. This led to my looking up derecho, which comes from the Spanish for “straight,” because it is a high wind that blows straight, rather than swirling, as with a tornado.

The display at the Forest History Center showed stunning photos from a blowdown that hit northern Minnesota, moved across the Boundary Waters and swept into Canada in 1999. This one storm flattened nearly 500,000 acres of trees. The display noted that this area was greater than the area destroyed by the eruption of Mount St. Helens.

That storm, however, was far from alone. There was a blowdown in the Adirondacks in 1995, when a derecho leveled 150,000 acres of forest, but the so-called Big Blowdown in the Adirondacks was in 1950, when a derecho flattened 800,000 acres of timber.

So when the term “derecho” popped up on the news, I was ready to be horrified. What surprised me, as I looked into it more, is that I hadn’t heard more about this phenomenon before, because these storms have occurred with some frequency in the U.S. I wondered if it was because they were so often in less populated areas, or whether it might be because they were generally a surprise, rather than offering the long, dramatic build-up we usually see for a hurricane.

The storm was first described and given its name in 1877 by Dr. Gustavus Detlef Hinricks, a professor at the University of Iowa and founder of Iowa’s first weather service, following the appearance of this type of storm in Iowa in that year.

The thing that strikes me is how resilient both forests and humans are. Because all the blown-down forests have grown back and cities and towns have been rebuilt, and hence we are surprised by the new destruction, because both nature and humans have forgotten. And yet I have also been reminded of that resilience, as videos start to pop up with efforts well under way to rebuild after this most recent storm.

Praying that all those affected by this most recent derecho recover quickly. Simply knowing that a phenomenon is natural and even relatively common does not make it any less horrifying.

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Filed under Geography, History, Language, Thoughts, Uncategorized

Cathy and the Farm

The town was founded in 1871 by a group of men known as “The Arapahoe Town Company”—and with great foresight, among the first things they staked out was the park that is still at the town’s center.

Among those to arrive in 1871 was Dominicus Hasty, who raised corn, of course, but also became a surveyor and pioneer of irrigation in the region. He was also the great-grandfather of my friend Jane, and Cathy’s grandfather. Cathy’s roots are deep here – which is probably why she ended up as president of the Arapahoe Historical Society.

A lot of the farms in this area practice what is known as dryland farming. That means not using irrigation, despite being in a fairly arid region, relying on a combination of rain and drought-resistant crops. Unfortunately, during a drought, this can hurt farmers. However, when the droughts get bad, even irrigation may not help, as the water one is allowed to pump out of the ground is limited.

Cathy’s property has both dryland and irrigated fields. There hasn’t been rain for a long time, and the unwatered fields look sad. The corn has come up, but it is already mid-June, and it’s clear that it’s not going to be “knee high by the fourth of July.”

Daytime temperatures are hovering around 100 degrees, and the hot, dry wind steals what little moisture is left. People watch the weather report with the intensity of listening for a serious medical diagnosis. Will it rain? Will it rain in time? The weather report is followed by a special feature on how long this can go on before it’s too late for crops to recover. Corn plants with crisp, curled leaves can still come back, but not if they go too far.

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The irrigated fields look better, but will the drought mean water is rationed?

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I’m reminded of an old saying: “Humankind, despite its artistic pretensions, sophistication and accomplishments, owes its existence to a six-inch layer of topsoil and the fact that it rains!” But when there is no rain…

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Filed under Agriculture, Corn, Culture, Farming, Food, History, Midwest, Midwest Maize, Travel