Hail destroyed 25,000 plants on Woodleaf farm

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 28, 2012

By Karissa Minn
WOODLEAF — Farmers in western Rowan County are working to recover losses this week after a severe hail storm damaged their crops.
Early Sunday morning, a thunderstorm pelted parts of the county with marble-sized ice chunks, which looked like snow as they collected on the ground.
Sam Correll, of Correll Farms, said his family lost a variety of different greens and vegetable plants they had planned to sell at farmers markets.
“We totally lost all of the spring crops we had in the field,” Correll said. “It just shredded it.”
He said the total land affected isn’t much more than an acre, but it’s a “very intense acre” with about 25,000 plants, including lettuce, cabbage, onions, broccoli, cauliflower, radishes and turnips.
They worked to replant some of the crops on Tuesday, but those will come up about two or three weeks late.
“We weren’t able to find all that we had,” Correll said. “We had a lot of stuff that was not replaceable, because we were growing it from seed, and it’s too late now to regrow it.”
Artie Watson of Wetmore Farms said the hail hit his farm, too, but the plants fared a little better.
“The strawberries took a good beating … but they’re a pretty hardy plant,” Watson said. “I think the plants will come back and make a crop of strawberries — just later than normal.”
About half the early blooms on the plants were cut off, he said, meaning his early crop of strawberries will be smaller.
He said the hail also could have an effect on the later crop. This week, farm workers are fertilizing and watering the plants to encourage growth as best they can.
Watson said he remembers the exact day in 1987 that he last saw a hailstorm this big.
“We had planted a field of probably 30-some thousand tomato plants on April 14, and on April 15 it hailed, just like it did Saturday night,” Watson said. “It just ruined them. A tomato won’t recover like a strawberry plant will.”
Both farmers said Tuesday they have other plants in greenhouses that are protected from severe weather.
Darrell Blackwelder, Rowan County Cooperative Extension director, said there may have been crop loss at farms in other parts of the county as well as western Rowan.
He said such a severe thunderstorm isn’t expected this early in the year.
“Normally, when you think of hail damage, it would occur in May or June, maybe April,” Blackwelder said. “You don’t think of March.”
Wheat and grain growers, he said, are still trying to assess the damage to their crops. Stems that are just bent can straighten and produce a crop. But Blackwelder said some farmers may not know whether the plant stems are completely broken “until the leaves turn brown.”
Rare event
The storm also caused problems for some local drivers in the early morning Sunday.
According to the N.C. Department of Transportation, 6 to 8 inches of hail fell in a 5-mile area between Mount Ulla and Woodleaf during the thunderstorm, making some of the local roads impassable.
Randy Powell, Woodleaf resident and pastor of South River United Methodist Church, said he thought he might have to cancel church Sunday.
“I was all over the road,” he said, when he and his wife left before 8 a.m. on Cool Springs Road.
Even with a four-wheel-drive vehicle, Powell said, he had to drive slowly to avoid sliding out of his lane.
After assessing the situation at 4 a.m. Sunday, the Department of Transportation sent maintenance crews out in a motor grader and a dump truck equipped with a plow to push the accumulated hail off the pavement. They worked for six hours to clear the roads so motorists could safely reach their destinations.
A Transportation Department press release said the hail storm was a “a rare weather event for the area,” and crews said they have never seen anything like it.
Powell said he has never heard anything like it, either.
“Normally, (hail) sounds just like a stone hitting something — ping, ping, ping — but this was a roar,” Powell said. “It was just hundreds of them coming down at one time.”
The hail drifts against buildings measured up to 4.5 feet deep in some places, according to the Transportation Department.
“When I got up, it looked like it had snowed,” Powell said. “Everything was white, and we didn’t have a leaf left on any of our trees.”
When he got closer, he saw that the “snow” was made up of ice chunks roughly the size of marbles.
But as he drove to South River, Powell saw less and less ice, and by the time they got to the church there was none.
When Powell got back from church after noon, he said, the hail was “still all over the place.” He doesn’t know how deep it was, but he knows some areas had 2 or 3 inches’ worth on the ground.
“I just thank the Lord,” he said, “that no one got hurt.”
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.
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