Farmers are keenly aware of weather changes. The devilish aches in bones are the hard-won reminders of injuries and long difficult seasons of tillage and harvest, 5 a.m. milkings and barn cleaning. One thing that can be relied on with a farmer is he or she is always ready to talk about the next approaching weather pattern.
My husband, Richard, and I own a small place on which we now only raise corn, soybeans and wheat. The days of animal husbandry are gone for us. In July 2015 we knew a storm was coming. My husband has been a farmer his whole life; he said he could feel it coming. As we do most every night, we retired to bed about 9 p.m. I turned on the weather radio knowing it would jolt me from my slumber at some point. With one last peek at the TV for a weather-station update, we closed our eyes.
About 3 a.m. I was awakened by urgent beeping from the weather radio. I slapped the radio into silence. A howling west wind was pelting the windows with a driving rain. Trying to allow my husband to sleep more, I went to check the alert. I descended the stairs, popped on the TV and sat down. The radar looked ominous with yellows, oranges and reds. At 3:15 my husband came down to say our dog wanted to come downstairs with me. She was scared. Five minutes later the lights went out. As I was calling in the outage to the co-op, I was asked if we had damage to report. In that instant I heard the crack, boom and bang of three distinct sounds from outside. I blankly hung up the phone.
The wind and rain were relentless for another hour. Nothing could be seen from my kitchen window. Richard came down to keep vigil on the coming daybreak; morning approached slowly. As the light allowed some progress, my husband stated he could see the silo but not the barn.
We stared incredulously at the unfolding scene. From the windows we could recognize very little. Massive trees were down or heavily damaged. We ventured out when the rain subsided at dawn. Our electric lines were ripped right from the house. The windbreak of 40-foot white pines had snapped in half; they were lying on our vegetable garden and driveway. Powerful winds had blown out the concrete-block back wall of the garage-machine shed, collapsing the roof onto equipment inside. Our ancient corn crib was bowed as though it were a canvas sail on a ship.
But worst of all was the absence of our hay loft from the barn. The remains of it were strewn out into a cornfield. Arched ribs of wood from the roof trussing lay everywhere. Huge sheets of wind-driven steel roofing had sheared off countless rows of corn. Many more acres were laid to waste by wind. Not 24 hours earlier we had proudly measured that corn as 9 feet tall. It was an amazing height for mid-July – now gone.
At 9:30 we were surprised by the arrival of the Dodge County Emergency Response team, the Weather Service field assessor and a Milwaukee TV crew. We were questioned and interviewed, and then informed that the damage was caused by 110-mile-per-hour straight-line winds.
During the next few days we found we had lost about 20 trees in our farmyard. A grand old oak had even succumbed. It had chosen to grow where there had been an old artesian well. Not needing to search far for moisture, it had shallower roots. Those had been ripped from the saturated soil.
Even on that fateful morning we sensed a higher purpose. Our farm would challenge everything we believed about ourselves. The workload of cleanup and rebuilding would test our bodies and our minds. But the hometown insurance agent we used for our property had recently reviewed our policy with us. He ensured we were covered for just such an event.
In the end we are grateful for the storm. We were able to transform our operation and it strengthened our marriage. It empowered us. The storm was a blessing. Richard and I made several observations as we assessed and planned, repaired and demolished. One tree suffered no damage at all. A lone hackberry tree had withstood the storm. That’s the one tree that would have taken out the house. It held firm against the storm, protecting us. The storm tested our roots too, but we too held firm.