In Comes the Hail

Every season ECHO has been at Ukulima, there has been one storm of hail at the end of winter as the summer rains are starting. The Toyota Hilux ECHO now uses was dented up quite a bit in the storm of 2011.

The storm of 2012 had large scalloped stones which when falling on a tile roof sounded like the roof was being shattered like glass. In its onset I had to run out to our truck to put it under shelter. It didn't last very long and thankfully didn't do any damage. This time I wish that was the case.

At first it came on as a heavy rain, but soon became a lateral wall of cm size hail. Bob Hargrave and I ran to shut the windows as water was coming straight in and soaking the walls. From under the doors waves of water came in. Leaves even came through the side door jam. The windows looked like they were vehicle windshields going about 65 mph in a Florida thunderstorm. Thankfully the truck was under shelter this time.

Early that morning, 17mm of slow soft rain had fallen, the first true rain of the season and a good sign for the coming rains. While steady rains won't get our stream high enough to irrigate for planting any time soon, it would slowly enter the stores of groundwater that are already too low. For that reason we have still been waiting to plant most of the plots. Then the hail storm came.

24 mm (0.94 inch) in 10 minuets. We realized the damage slowly. For a country that doesn't have hurricanes or tornadoes, the power of the gale was unlike anything we'd heard of for the area. A few of our roof shingles were dislocated. The chairs on the stoep were blown over onto tall pigeonpea.

One we walked out of the house we saw that the door to our shed was displaced from its track. A large empty water tank was blown past our truck--without damage--into the electric fence. Worst of all for me, the greenhouse Rip worked so hard refitting was obliterated. Moringa that was growing for our experimental plot and for some neighbors were broken and spilt. Trays of garden plants were pummeled by hail. Somehow it also broke air pipes on our plant drier and killed one of the motor pumps.

Most costly for the farm and Penn State was the damage to their pivot irrigation, two segments of which were overturned, twisted, and bent. If they must be wholly replaced, that could cost $2,000 each.

In my regard, more devastating than broken irrigation and battered seedlings was the felling of the largest Paper Bark Acacia in the area. Not only is it one of the few of that species around, but it was also the tallest and oldest native tree around too. The saddest part is that one of three young Spotted Eagle Owls nesting in a large crotch was killed in the fall. Just a month ago there had been a fourth owlet that fell out of the tree and died. It is hard to see nature claim half of the clutch's cunning predators.

Having just watched Ken Burns documentary on the Dust Bowl,  in this event I thought of the people who survived the dust storms around No Man's Land. Feeling the powerful force of nature as it enters and disrupts your life, even setting it back. While I only lost some Moringa and veggies and not an entire crop, and the water came in for moments and wasn't dust drifting in every day for years, I empathized with those tenacious Okies more than ever.

Hopefully with this year's hail behind us the greenhouse can be rebuilt, the rains for a season of plenty will come with less violence, and the eagles soon will fly.


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