Tuesday 1 May 2018

Natural Disasters and Family Misfortunes 14: Deadly Hail Storms

My cousin Donald told me the story of how his family came to live in, and then move from Canada in the 1930s. My grandparents had immigrated in 1928 and established a farm near the town of Irricana, Alberta. My Uncle Randall came along initially to help them get settled. He returned to Oregon but decided later to come back to Canada and farm on his own.

Donald was born in the Irricana area in 1932. Uncle Randall leased land in the Crossfield area north of Calgary and set out to become fully Canadian. Unfortunately, in the summer of his first year a hail storm, not uncommon in that region, destroyed his entire crop. My uncle decided there and then that farming in Alberta was not for him and he moved his family back to the United States.

This is really just a minor incident, both in terms of the region in which it occurred and in the history of our family but it had profound effect on the people involved as well as impacting future generations of people. Donald ended up growing up and making his life in a country he was not born into.

But it got me thinking about other members of our family who migrated to far off places during their lifetimes. And others, as well, in similar circumstances. Were they forced away from their homes because of changes in natural conditions under which they lived and worked. In particular, did a major, or even minor storm disrupt families to the point that they had to changed their way of life or move.

Major storms can disrupt activities, impact livelihoods and even kill people. It’s not always the excessive rain that is the sole problem. Often, it’s the other elements that come along with storms, such as tornadoes, floods and hail. Just do a Google search for hail storms and you will come up with thousands of hits, most of which will describe events in which very large hail stones thundered down on unsuspecting people, damaging cars and homes, reducing crops to bent straw and injuring people caught outside on what they thought was going to be a nice day.

Big storms containing hail commonly occur on hot spring or summer days when the heat causes evaporation from the Earth’s surface and carries the moisture up into the cold stratosphere. There the water vapour freezes and starts to fall. The continuous updraft lifts the ice pellets again where they acquire another coat of freezing water. The sequence can repeat several times resulting in vary large “stones” before they can escape the rising air and fall to earth.

In searching historical records, you will also find events similar to the 30 April 1888 storm that devastated the town of Moradabad in India. It struck at midday. Hail stones the size of oranges killed 230 people as well as thousands of farm animals that could not find protection. Strong winds accompanying the storm toppled many buildings.

A single storm might produce unexpected results that can affect the outcome of a nation’s history. For example, on 13 April 1360, the army of King Edward III of England were marching against the French at Chartres when a violent hailstorm was unleashed on them. Hundreds of ill-protected men and horses died in the onslaught of hailstones reported to be as large as pigeon’s eggs. Lightning apparently also struck and killed knights in full battle armour. After this onslaught from Mother Nature, with his army in tatters after the onslaught from nature, Edward agreed to a truce under which he got a major portion of the country but was denied the French crown.” (from Shepheard, 2018: Surviving Mother Nature’s Tests, p. 111)
Source: Barnard, Bryn. (2003). Dangerous Planet: Natural disasters that changed history. New York: Crown Publishers.

National Geographic reported on an area called Roopkund Lake, also in India, in Uttarakhand state in the Himalayas. In 1942 skeletal remains of hundreds of people were found in the frozen water. For years, scientists and archaeologists debated what had killed them all. The final conclusion was that they had been caught in a terrible hail storm around 850 AD as they traversed the mountain range. All had been killed or stunned by round objects from above that fractured skulls, leaving them to die from their injuries or eventually from hypothermia in the high mountain valley. Those objects must have been very large hail stones.

In 1986, a hail storm killed 100 people and injured at least 9,000 in Sichuan province, in central China.

Golf ball and baseball size hail stones are not uncommon. Many readers may have seen such projectiles from the sky. The largest hail stone found so far measured 7 inches in diameter and fell during a storm on 22 June 2003 in Vivian, South Dakota.

Hail storms can cause significant damage if they happen in urban areas. Where I live, a hail storm on 7 September 1991 caused $342 million in insurable damage. Luckily that one missed out home but I do remember having to install a new roof in 1982 after hail stones pound shingles off the old one.

As I said, some storms have been only inconveniences. Others throughout history have been deadly. And perhaps more than a few, such as the one that took out my uncles crop in 1932, resulted in major changes to a family’s livelihood and history.