“Insured 290 acres crop at $4.50 per acre.”
Abraham Hanna diary, June 24, 1922
Farmers call it “the great white combine.” They fear it. They plan for it.
From early June to the end of August, they scan the sky, hoping they will not see what they are looking for.
The crop is up and growing well. By July, the wind sends waves billowing across the grain field. The heads are emerging. The farmer dreams of a bumper crop. Of full granaries. Bills paid. Money in the bank. Dreams hedged with caution – the crop is not yet in the bin.
The day begins normally. It is hot, humid. Cumulus clouds gather in the west, grow larger, higher. Farmers check the weather report: “Severe weather advisory. Thunderstorms with heavy rain and possibility of hail.” They hope it will pass them by.
From a distance the storm is beautiful – huge, shimmering, pearlescent, anvil-shaped clouds reaching high into the sky. They loom closer, growing in size, becoming darker, blacker, more threatening. The sky darkens, the air chills. The wind picks up. Distant thunder rolls closer and closer. The first rain drops fall.
“Severe electric storm with heavy rain & hail at 1 am.”
Abraham Hanna diary, June 17, 1929
Rain pelts down, harder and harder. The terror arrives.
The advance guard is pea-sized, rattling down against roofs and windows. Everything that can move scurries to shelter. Huddles. Shivers. Hopes for the best. Fears the worst.
No longer pea-size. They grow, the size of golf balls, tennis balls, even larger. The wind howls, blowing rain and hail sideways in great gusts. The rattling becomes a deafening pounding, a hammering accompanied by the sound of shattering glass, shredding siding. The ground whitens. Drifts form in corners. It lasts an eternity.
“Hot with showers and heavy rain in eve with some hail & very high wind. A large area in 9-7 [the township north of the farm] was hailed out by a storm which swept from Leader to south of Willow Bunch.”
Abraham Hanna diary, July 19, 1927
It is over. The rainbow in the sky belies the devastation below. Leaves and branches ripped from trees. Dead birds. A kitten that didn’t make it to the barn in time. Shattered windows. Dented vehicles.
Worst of all, garden and crop destroyed. Hopes and dreams destroyed. Hail insurance will pay some of the bills but it is no substitute for a full grain bin.
The farmer walks through the jagged stubble, fingers some of the shattered stalks and heads. He mourns his lost crop but already he is thinking of next year.
(I started writing this before the hail storm of June 13 that hit northeast Calgary and caused a preliminary estimate of at least $1 billion in damages)
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