Grit Blogs > The Daily Commute

Prairie Weather: Powerful And Unpredictable

By Hank Will, Editor-in-Chief


Tags: farm, prairie, weather, tornadoes,

GRIT Editor Hank Will at the wheel of his 1964 IH pickup.GRIT associate editor, Caleb Regan, texted me one evening last week to know whether the funnels that had been sighted several miles southeast of Carbondale, Kansas had crossed my farm. I had seen some weather on the way home, and noted a certain closeness to the air while doing chores, but I was blissfully unaware that tornados were on the prowl in my neighborhood. Sometimes it's just not possible to keep tabs on Mother Nature down in rural Osage County. Mostly, I don't even try to keep tabs.

Weather in Kansas on US 75 

Back in the late 1980s, I watched a tornado blow up a neighbor's barn just across the section. I was transfixed by the sight, sound and power of it.

Weather in Osage county kansas 

I was amazed by how quickly it appeared and how rapidly it moved. The thing about the prairie is that most of the time you can see weather coming -- all you have to do is pay attention.

Kansas weather 

In the 1990s, while cultivating half-mile-long rows of newly-planted South Dakota shelterbelt, my long hair quite suddenly stood up and bushed out from beneath my Stetson.

Kansas weather report 

I caught a good whiff of ozone as I dove from the still-cultivating tractor and hit the earth a split second before the bolt of lightning obliterated a century-old Cottonwood tree growing in the creek bottom about 100 yards away.

Kansas weather vanishes 

As fast as that squall snuck up on me, it was gone -- poof. Lucky for me, I managed to roll out of the cultivator's path and catch up with the tractor before destroying the young trees.

Powerful tornadoes, and other damaging weather have avoided my 1907 four-square farmhouse for the past 103 years. I anticipate that the place will stand more or less unmolested for the next 103.  If not, so be it. There's nothing I can do about the weather on my patch of the Kansas prairie. And that's exactly the way I like it.


Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines. Connect with him on .

gloria
7/19/2010 1:51:23 AM

This is amazing, I have to ask what religion you are because there are some very powerful angels watching over you and your farmland! I grew up in Arizona and we had a 80 acre farm. We occasionally had powerful dust storms that scared the living daylights out of me. I always wondered if something like this could happen to us. We were knowledgable about where the underground shelter was on the farm, you know, just in case!


hank will_2
7/13/2010 1:30:54 PM

Hey Dave -- I've seen a few tornadoes, but that one that ran down the half-section line across the road from my place in South Dakota was the closest I've been. It was really amazing and as long as the "trained spotter" was on the section road, I figured I'd just stay on the porch and watch. There are a mess of huge Hackberry trees on the farm here in Kansas that have the serpentine scars of lightning strikes. The one right behind the house got hit at some point, but not when I was there. It's all pretty cool stuff.


nebraska dave
7/12/2010 6:52:16 PM

@Hank, that’s kind of how we all look at things in rural Midwest. Our weather predictions are based on the senses of hearing, feeling, smelling, and seeing not only what happens in the wind,and sky but what are the animals doing. They have a weather sense that is uncanny. Probably the best weather predictor I know of is the lowly Guinea. They will roost outside in the trees unless the weather is going to be bad then they will roost in with the chickens. When living in rural America, things about weather are learned from experience and parents. I really got an out loud laugh about leaping off the still moving tractor to avoid the lightening strike. I’m not sure that anyone even cultivates anymore but it was one of my best farming memories. I never really cultivated half mile rows because in the hill country the terraces chopped up the fields and followed the curvature of the hill. Never did I see fields bigger than 80 acres in the area I grew up. Many times they were 40 acre fields. You talked about trees in the field and we had plenty of trees that grew up in the ditches and gullies for the water run off. I’ve never been up close and personal with a tornado but I can identify with the ozone smell and the electric air before the tree splitting lightening strike. With all the Doppler radar and technology, I still think the best way to deal with weather is to step outside, sniff the air, observe the cloud formations, and look at sky colors. It hasn’t failed yet.