High winds and hail wreaked havoc on one Mount Jackson farmer’s property late last week, causing close to $2 million in damages.
Dennis Baker’s farm spans 850 acres. On Thursday evening, intense wind and hail drove through the valley, ripping the roofs off of two of his barns and destroying close to his entire soybean crop.
“We had a lot of hail that destroyed the crops,” Baker said. “It destroyed 80 acres of soybeans and did damage to about 250 acres of corn.”
Baker said he has been watching the corn since Thursday evening and is hopeful that some of it will be salvageable. The soybeans, on the other hand, were destroyed except for a 30-acre patch in a backfield he said he believed were unharmed.
Baker estimated the hail did about $20,000 in damages to his crops alone, not accounting for the farm equipment pelted by the golf ball-sized chunks of ice falling from the sky.
While Baker’s livelihood in his crops took a beating, his pocketbook is reeling from the trail left by the wind.
One of his rental homes, a historic property, and a barn from the pre-Civil War era had their roofs blown off.
“Not just little pieces,” Baker said. “It was wind damage that did most of the damage.”
Sonny Hovatter, a local farmer, said he saw high winds pick water up out of the Shenandoah River and carry it up onto the bridge just south of Town Hall in Mount Jackson.
“It was absolutely pouring, the wind was really blowing but it hadn’t started hailing,” Hovatter said. “Water was coming up out of the river like it was being slung.”
Hovatter was walking in the back pastures of a farm about a mile outside of Mount Jackson when he saw the storm pick up, led by lightning to the west.
“We could see it going down the valley,” he said. “It wasn’t near us. We knew we had to get out of there. It was very clear where we were.”
Microbursts such as the one that ripped through Mount Jackson are commonly misidentified as tornadoes, said Jeremy Geiger, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sterling.
Geiger explained that the thunderstorms accompanying microbursts are focused bursts of air that drop to the surface, bringing intense winds and other severe weather. The damage, he said, can be as bad as other storms — such as tornadoes.
While tornadoes and microbursts are two different sets of phenomena, with two different origins, Geiger said microbursts can resemble low to mid-level tornadoes.
“If you have a really strong microburst, it can look like a low end to a middle-end tornado,” Geiger said. “They both typically come out of thunderstorms.”
Thunderstorms, and the updrafts they cause, also lead to the crop-ruining hail Baker encountered.
Despite the humid conditions, Geiger explained that moisture on the surface is pulled up into the atmosphere during a thunderstorm. When that moisture reaches altitudes of 35,000 feet, it will freeze, bouncing around with other frozen particles and eventually grow large enough to fall back out of the sky.
“They need to be big enough to get strong enough to overwhelm the air coming up,” Geiger said. “The ice that you see as hail originates as much as 35,000 feet in the air.”
Baker said he is hopeful that some of his crops will survive the encounter with Mother Nature and is thankful for neighbors who have pitched in, helping him withstand the storm.
“God has blessed us with good neighbors,” Baker said. “All our neighbors have come in and helped us as best they could.”