Jerry Nelson: Where were you when the derecho hit?

Jerry Nelson
Special to the Farm Forum
Image of the author.

Everyone will remember the day that the Big Storm hit.

The derecho—a soot-black, boiling thunderhead that was hundreds of miles wide—rolled over large sections of our region last week.

My wife and I were visiting family in Kansas City, six hours from our home, when it hit. We watched our social media feeds as the storm angrily thundered its way across the prairie. Looking at Facebook became a form of doomscrolling.

It quickly became clear from calls with friends and family that the derecho had caused widespread property damage and electrical outages.

The most heartbreaking call was with our neighbor lady Jen. When asked how she was doing, Jen sobbed, “not so good. Our roof is damaged, and we can’t find Sophie!”

Sophie is Jen’s yearling Wheaton Terrier.

My wife and I decided that we had no choice but to cut our visit short. The drive home on the day after the storm seemed to take an eternity. I just wanted to get back and see what sort of hand the storm had dealt us.

My sister said that our parents’ farm had suffered substantial damage. She texted some photos and a sick feeling settled in my gut.

Sophie was still missing, so we put up a Facebook “lost dog” alert. Jen had scoured the neighborhood, asking everyone if they had seen Sophie. Nobody had, but all of our neighbors were kind and caring and said they would keep a sharp lookout. In this part of the world, tough times brings out the best in us.

The closer we got to home, the more damage we saw. Enormous trees had been uprooted, and there were sheets of twisted sheet metal scattered randomly in fields.

Our house seemed to have fared pretty well. There is a branch jutting out of a south wall and flying debris had shattered a bedroom window. Broken glass and dirt were scattered throughout the entire room.

The grove of trees that guards our home was not so lucky. About ten trees had toppled onto the nearby township road, blocking it completely. A vast number of trees in our grove were either ripped out by the roots or were broken off. Trees that had survived a century’s worth of storms had been snapped like toothpicks.

But the worst awaited us at the farm where my parents had lived.

A former calf barn, now used for machinery storage, had disappeared. The wind had uprooted the entire shed and hurled it against a pair of 6,000-bushel grain bins that sat nearby. It was as if a giant child had had a temper tantrum and angrily threw his toy barn at his toy grain bins.

A neighbor had been storing his pontoon boat in the barn. The boat was still sitting exactly where he had parked it. The rig didn’t have a single scratch.

My brother, our father and I had built that calf barn ourselves with assistance and supervision from a professional carpenter. We hadn’t skimped on materials; that barn was built to last.

The bins and the barn are now only so much junk. Years of physical and financial investment evaporated in seconds.

That’s a common refrain across the region. Innumerable structures were damaged; many were totally destroyed. We watched a YouTube video shot by a dairy farm employee who was milking cows as the storm tore the roof off the milking parlor. The barn’s interior became a whirlwind of flying debris.

One of our neighbors said that his weather gizmo recorded a peak wind gust of 107 mph. That would put it in the same bracket as a Category 2 hurricane.

Our nephew, Jeremiah, lost the roof of his house. The wind sucked the blow-in insulation out of the attic and deposited on his neighbor’s lawn.

Well, it was a product that had the word “blow” in its name.

As we motored homeward the day after the storm, I received a call from our neighbors to the north. The storm had scattered the majority of their calf huts hither and yon, and many of their baby calves were running loose.

But even as our neighbor grappled with the mayhem, he called to report that his young nephew, Wyatt, had seen a dog matching Sophie’s description in a nearby gravel pit. Wyatt had taken a photo; the dog certainly looked like Sophie.

We texted Jen his number. Jen and the neighbor rushed to the gravel pit where the unharmed Sophie was soon found.

A tearful reunion that took place in an old gravel pit—a small antidote to our collective sense of heartbreak.

If you'd like to contact Jerry Nelson to do some public speaking, or just to register your comments, you can email him at jjpcnels@itctel.com. His book, “Dear County Agent Guy,” is available at Workman.com and at booksellers everywhere.