Friday, May 27, 2011

Lucky to have survived this Ozarks springtime


It was so dry earlier this year that the water level in the lakes nearby were so low that watery coves dried up. Some boats, like these at a marina in Udall, MO still moored at their docks, sat in the mud.

It all began to change in mid-April, when the rain began.
The Chain of Rocks Bridge as it leaves St. Lou...Image via Wikipedia The rain promised to aid the annual resurgence of flora and fauna. Trouble is, it didn't stop raining. At one point after a night of heavy rain, the rain gauge read '14 inches.' That was followed by four inches and then three inches. That continued for almost two weeks. I've since lost count. Suffice it to say we are now close to 40 inches of rain in a little over a month. Because we live on a hillside, we have had no ill effects from all that rain. In fact, I loved every minute of it. Our backyard resembled a tropical rain forest. To me, there is no better smell than the woods after a rain.  
  
Such heavy rain combined with a huge snow melt in the northern states, all draining into the Mississippi River, caused record-setting flooding in the nation's largest river and its tributaries. The great flood of 2011 has claimed thousands of acres and produced millions of dollars in damage in several states. 

In mid April, heavy moisture rising from the Gulf of Mexico with unseasonably warm temperatures collided with the cold dry air from the north. Fueled by an ambitious jet stream the result was an outbreak of severe storms.
 
Category F5 tornado (upgraded from initial est...Image via WikipediaOn April 26, a tornado aimed at a major population center. Severe damage occurred in St. Louis, MO. Though there were no serious injuries or deaths reported, the 22-mile storm path devastated property. Even Lambert Airport took a direct hit. Both the airport and the interstate highway that feeds it were closed for a time.

A day later, a severe weather outbreak wreaked havoc on the southern states killing 232 people in six states. It seemed to zero in on Tuscaloosa, AL when an EF4 twister claimed 131 lives.

On Sunday, May 22, Mother Nature's destructive side spawned the devastating EF5 tornado that decimated huge chunks of Joplin, MO. To date, 126 people are known dead with hundreds still missing or unaccounted for. The Joplin tornado now eclipses the death toll from the 1953 tornado in Flint, MI, making it the eighth-deadliest U.S. tornado on record. More than 500 people have been killed in tornado outbreaks this Spring.


 
A rain-swollen White River downstream from Bull Shoals dam

In my locale, the tremendous amounts of rainfall has caused local flooding in low-lying areas. Dams built throughout the White River basin to store flood water until it can safely be released have filled to their brim as heavy rain has been relentless. Just a few months ago we couldn't wring a drop of moisture from the sky. Now it seems as if a spigot is stuck in the 'on' position.

Even though our little acreage has been relatively untouched by the most severe weather, these events have been too close for comfort. It has been unnerving to be suddenly awakened during a sound sleep by the blare of the weather radio toning its many warnings. From flash flooding to severe thunderstorms to tornado watches and warnings, the nerves are frayed by this very active season.

I am grateful for the technology that warns us, allowing enough time to take action to protect ourselves. In Joplin, there was about a 25-minute warning before the storm hit. Undoubtedly lives were saved.

During a severe weather event, I monitor the events all around. As long as the satellite receiver can retain a signal, the television is tuned to the weather channel. When the weather is severe, the local stations break into regular programming and provide minute-to-minute coverage. Even though we are in Arkansas, our local channels originate in Springfield, MO. I have to give a shout out to KY3 which seems to do the best job for us. I noticed that even some of my favorite stations returned to regular programming once Springfield was out of danger. We were still threatened however. KY3 continued its weather coverage until the threat had passed. I also keep my laptop computer on Intellicast, my personal favorite weather site. It updates the radar regularly and allows me to zoom into my own backyard. I can literally watch the radar as the storm approaches our house. My personal preparedness also includes a portable police scanner, so we can monitor local emergency traffic.

I am not complaining. For me, the more than thirty inches of rain that has fallen over our little five acres on a hillside has brought nothing but personal pleasure.

Trees once ailing from drought conditions are no longer stressed. In fact, all of the plants in the yard this year are thriving. The vegetable garden shows great promise.

There was one storm during these numerous events that produced gusty winds and quarter-sized hail. Even as we cringed at the ice balls hitting our windows, we know we were lucky.

The damage was obvious, but not severe. The bleeding hearts come to mind. Beneath the eaves, I would have thought they would have been protected. Instead, their once show-stopping beauty was marred by the overnight storm. They looked as though they were trampled upon. A beautiful crop of purple iris and their neighboring Mock Orange and Azalea bushes were broken and more horizontal than vertical. Some of the tomato plants in the vegetable garden had been broken and battered. A few petunias showed some battle scars on their otherwise velvety-textured petals. Fortunately a quick pruning was all they needed. Since it is early in the growing season, they will easily compensate for the damage.

Probably the most obvious resultant was the scattering of new and fully-grown oak leaves. The trees had finally fully dressed with its neon foliage--in a process that seemed to last an eternity after their long winter of nakedness. The hail pelted the trees as the wind whipped the tree tops. Small branches were broken. Leaves, filled the yard. No single area was spared from the lawn, to the gardens, and even onto the covered porch.

We have been lucky. Tornado season is not yet over. I hope that luck holds out for the rest of the season.

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