The last two times I have visited my hometown of Hayward have been connected with storms of note. Last fall I was there for the first blizzard of the year. This week I happened in on a freak storm that colored most of this visit.
The morning started like any other in northern Wisconsin in the late stages of summer, overcast and grey. Then it changed to something unusual. Everyone who witnessed it starts their story with “and then it got dark”, “it was as black as night”, “it got as dark as this black shirt I’m wearing”.
From her living room window my mom can see the top of the flagpole at the next door furniture store. The flag was flapping in a west wind. The rain began and the sound of it soon grew louder as hail began hitting the windows and siding of the house. There was a fury in this storm that sent those who had basements down for shelter. After about an hour, when the wind had subsided and the sky was lighter many people came out to look at the damage. There were piles of ice here and there. The fence around the development had been shot through with holes where it was still standing and completely twisted and blown down everywhere else.
As they stood in the street talking, my brother noticed a dark bank of clouds rapidly approaching from a different direction. It was as if the storm turned around and came back for a second round. More rain pelted the area and winds continued from what seemed like all points of the compass. There have often been tornado like events in this area without any sightings of funnel clouds or advance warning of any kind. This seemed to be one of those times. The area affected had no clear boundaries, the destruction had no apparent path.
A day later, we drove around to check on nearby properties that my dad owns. I saw firsthand what hail can do. Cornfields with stalks still standing but no leaves on them. Lawns looking like they had been mowed. A green carpet of chopped leaves on roads, roofs, and the forest floor. Trees looking like fall had already stripped them. In addition, many trees were down, sometimes in clumps having come down together, but often randomly, here and there. Trees that had fallen on the road had by this time been cut allowing cars to pass, but clean up was going slowly.
Gardens and flower pots that had been still in full bloom and production were decimated – an early demise. I worked at cleaning up my mom’s patio where she had several planters, one full of herbs and flowers. The plants had been chopped and spread about and my sweeping stirred up the aroma of basil and parsley. The garden that had received compliments the week before was empty of everything except a few cabbages. I pulled up the bare corn stalks and cucumber vines. The small creeks that flow through my brother’s property were overflowing and flooding the drive. The downed trees numbered 40 and as already mentioned, the fence was history. In the nearby town there was much flooding and standing water. One other noticeable post storm effect – the birds were gone.
People are helping each other clean up. Those without electricity are borrowing generators. Things are slowly getting back to normal. Much has been lost but the landscape will recover. We are all reminded that nature is still a powerful, untamed force.