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Unprecedented Hail and Winds Wreak Hovac on Hudson Valley Farms

Jun 15, 2018

Farmers have long been adapting to unexpected weather patterns and events; however there is little consolation that a farmer can take when healthy, producing fruit trees or other crops are damaged by the ravages of nature.

Unprecedented Hail and Winds Wreak Havoc on Hudson Valley Farms

Farmers have long been adapting to unexpected weather patterns and events; however there is little consolation that a farmer can take when healthy, producing fruit trees or other crops are damaged by the ravages of nature.  Such is the unfortunate case in May’s unforeseen tornado bursts for some HVADC clients, including Fishkill Farms in southern Dutchess County.    

The National Weather Service (NWS) confirmed five tornadoes that touched down in the Hudson Valley and Connecticut region on Tuesday, May 15 in the late afternoon.  According to the NWS, a tornado with estimated peak winds of 85 mph hit near Newburgh in Orange County, moving through a path of 674 yards -- in addition to two earlier confirmed tornadoes in Putnam County: another tornado with estimated peak winds of 110 mph in Kent, and an EF1 with 100 mph winds in Patterson.  Additionally, the I84 corridor saw a microburst of winds ranging from 85-105 mph—impacting Fishkill Farms and Common Ground Farms, among others. 

Hudson Valley Weather declared, “The map is jaw dropping” in their final storm analysis. HVW reported that there were roughly 50 reports of wind damage, and roughly 20 reports of hail in excess of one inch diameter-- in addition to four confirmed tornadoes, and 1 reported tornado that was downgraded to a “downburst’-- for a total of 75 severe reports in the Hudson Valley.  In comparison, reported HVW, the May 31, 2002 severe weather outbreak produced five reports of wind damage, nine reports of hail, one confirmed tornado and two unconfirmed tornadoes, for a total of 17 severe reports in the Hudson Valley.  “It would take us a considerable amount of time to look at all the data on record to be certain, but it stands to reason that the May 15, 2018 severe outbreak was the largest severe weather event on record for our area,” they said. Fishkill Farms manager and HVADC board president Mark Doyle said rain was expected, but a tornado was not.  “We knew there was rain coming and suddenly we all got tornado warnings on our phones that we probably didn’t pay enough attention to-- big mistake-- we won’t do that again. We were busy closing up doors and getting people indoors.  Power went off, and within 15-20 minutes it was a swatch of destruction from one end of to the farm to the other.” 

Doyle said it happened so fast along one swatch, and described large trees “knocked off in a single direction.”  Doyle said due to the extent of local damage that clean-up was slow and roads were closed for protracted time periods, exacerbating the challenges in the farm’s own clean-up and critical recovery efforts.  Power and internet was not restored until Saturday.  Doyle believes that over 3000 trees on the farm were damaged.  

Doyle reported that ten percent of the farm was damaged, explaining that the worst damage occurred to the fruit trees on trellises, involving some 10 year-old producing cherry trees that knocked down. He said the latest event was a call for Fishkill Farms’ need to further diversify, and build stronger.  “We had moved to the dwarf and semi-dwarf the trees are designed to grow up tall and fast and need the support of the trellis,” said Doyle. “It is pretty devastating to see that much of your work, in some cases trees planted five to ten years ago—in their prime—now lying on their sides. More evidence to the fact that we have to be extremely diversified and build our systems in a more resilient way than we have in the past, such as stronger trellis.” Though the primary damage was to trellis and felled deer fencing, said Doyle, the farm’s drip line irrigation was also damaged, although not the pump line, with the destruction occurring at a time of year when the farm was busy enough.

As for insurance, Doyle explained that there are more challenges yet to face. Fishkill Farm carries crop insurance-- fairly expensive-- but apple crop insurance is partially subsidized. They are also working with the USDA for federal disaster relief funds as well, however Doyle believes their damage supersedes assistance for what’s available. “Always the assumption is that the loss is a one-year crop, but in this situation, it is a multi-year crop,” he said.  They are busily standing some trees up, explain that a portion of their roots have survived, but whether they will be able to produce a crop is yet unknown.  Doyle added that the costs of rebuilding the trellis and standing it all back up again are also not covered by insurance.  

Farms elsewhere were pummeled by hail. “Hearty Roots suffered significant hail damage from the storm,” said Lindsey Lusher Shute, owner of Hearty Roots Farm in southern Columbia County.  Shute said that the hail combined with high wind speeds destroyed the plastic on their four greenhouses, and ripped holes throughout the plastic mulch and row cover.  But that was not the extent of the hail’s destruction. “The hail also smashed all of the windshields on our vehicles; broke windows on our house and barns; and cracked our solar panels. Tens of thousands of seedlings were lost in the field and near the greenhouse.” 

Prohibitively high costs of crop insurance means CSA’s and diversified farms are difficult to insure, said Shute, and therefore Hearty Roots is unable to carry it.  She said they have some insurance for the damaged cars and infrastructure, however. Shute said her community is generously helping in recovery, both by volunteering hours of time and labor and offering plant material.  She added that local farms are helping with new seedlings, and they are replanting as quickly as possible. “This community support has been incredibly important to our family and the farm,” said Shute.  Hearty Roots is delaying some of their CSA distributions and planting extra fall crops, she explained.  “The harvest will certainly be impacted, although we are still waiting to see how damaged plants will bounce back.”  

Pete Scaturro, owner of Apple Bin Farm Market/Scaturro Farms in Ulster Park in Ulster County said the hail from the storm was the worst his farm has ever endured.  “It was the worst hail I have ever seen here in 41 years,” said Scaturro. “We got good size hail and heavy, heavy winds.”  Scaturro said that his farm received damage to his stone fruit trees: pears, nectarines, apricots, plums and peaches. “There was damage to leaves, and damage to fruit, but nothing pulled out of the ground.  We will bring it to harvest and see whatever is salvageable.  We will not really know until it gets bigger. The insurance guy was here taking pictures… It’s not pretty.” 

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