WACO, Neb. (DTN) -- Under blue skies and rising heat and humidity June 16, Jeff Obermier, along with his son Brayden and their neighbors and friends, worked to get grain out of big bins now mostly topless and crumpled like tin cans. Next to trees with some of their tops sheared off and a shredded, twisted corn crop in the field, a line of semis waited to move the corn out.
"We're blessed with great neighbors and great friends that came over to help us out," Obermier said.
Like other farmers in east-central Nebraska, they were cleaning up after severe storms hit two days earlier, late on a Tuesday night, with hurricane-force winds in some areas. Some of Obermier's land got hit the hardest. His place is centered south about 6 miles from Utica and 6 miles from Waco, between I-80 and Highway 34 in east-central Nebraska.
"Tuesday evening, we got hail early and then straight-line winds later blew our crops down, hailed them out, tore roofs off six bins and flipped over a dozen irrigation systems for us," Obermier said.
Irrigation equipment may be tough to replace; several other places in the Midwest have reported pivots destroyed from the above-normal amount of severe wind reports this crop season. (https://www.dtnpf.com/…)
"The insurance adjusters have come out and took pictures," said Obermier. "But with inflationary costs in the prices of the equipment, we don't know if our insurance values were up to date enough to even come close to compensate us for all the expenses we're going to do," he explained.
"They're a little bit delayed, you know, transportation and labor issues that we're having ... we're probably looking at about two months before we can get irrigation systems back up.
"That pretty much means that we'll be dryland until the middle of August."
PLANNING TO REPLANT
However, even without irrigation, he's still thinking of replanting. After all, spring had started so well. He'd been on schedule with planting his crops. "We planted most of it in April, in the first week in May, and everything was looking really good until the hail came through."
On June 14, Obermier was optimistic about still getting a crop in. "We're gonna replant something out there, whether it be cover crops or another crop of corn or beans or whatever, depending upon what we can do for herbicides, because we don't want the ground to stay idle all summer long. It's not good for ground to be barren and weeds growing on it."
By June 21, Obermier said in a phone interview that he was well on his way to finishing replanting his fields. "By the end of the week, it will get replanted," he said, thankful for the neighbors who came to help him plant.
Looking at the higher costs of inputs he's facing this year, Obermier acknowledged it's always been a higher risk for what he and other farmers do.
"We're just very fortunate to have some crop insurance products to utilize that are going to help us out, hopefully. Time will tell that."
As for how his fields will do, he said they have good subsoil moisture; he thinks he got about 3 inches of rain from the storms that came through -- but he's not sure because hail broke all his rain gauges.
He added that the fields were really dry earlier this year, through corn planting, but then it started raining. "We've had really nice rains up 'til this point."
However, according to DTN Ag Meteorologist John Baranick, it may be a challenge without irrigation in Nebraska this summer. "Dryland farming is going to be a difficult endeavor in this part of the country over the summer. The combination of expected above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation does not bode well for this area, especially given that high temperatures and low precipitation are usual anyway.
"Drought is already encroaching on the area, with D1-D2 drought just north of the Platte River and around and west of Grand Island, according to the latest drought monitor," Baranick added.
"For reference, since 2000, Lincoln averages 2.76 inches of rain in July, 3.37 inches in August, and 3.03 inches in September. That comes in bursts of heavy rain from thunderstorms and those numbers are heavily skewed by such events," Baranick explained. "When those thunderstorms do not come as frequently, those numbers are very low for each month."
Multiple storms hit this area of east-central Nebraska on June 14. "We had plenty of warning, we knew it was coming, but it was the second storm in the middle of the night ... the first storm was a lot of hail and wind, the second storm was really high winds. We didn't get much rain ... some hail, but not a lot, out of the second storm, but mainly straight-line winds," he recalled.
Those fierce winds hit around 1 a.m. CDT. "We had been surveying damages in the fields, we got back home about 11:30, 12 o'clock and the power went out and we were in the basement and heard it but stayed down there, didn't come up until the next morning to see the damages, because you wouldn't be able to see much."
In the corner of one field, those high winds left behind two badly damaged bins that had been about a third full, with about 15,000 bushels of corn.
While he's thinking about replanting, what insurance will cover, and when even new irrigation equipment might arrive, for now Obermier raced to rescue the grain before the next storm clouds began to tower above the horizon.
"We salvaged all of it. Not much rain came after the roofs caved in, or blew off, and we've got two of them cleaned out, got one more to go," he said late Thursday afternoon as his helpers swept, shoveled and an auger churned. The grain was being hauled to a local elevator. "They said as long as you can keep bringing it, we'll keep dumping it. They made room for us."
His farmyard also got hit by the winds. "Our house is about a mile away from here, and we have three bins damaged there, and we have corn in one of them that we haven't been able to get out because the roof is inside of the bin." In his yard, the wind's strength is obvious: It lifted one bin roof and moved it 40-50 yards -- over the bin with its roof collapsed inside it -- and then crashed it down on top of two semis.
A few days after the storm, Obermier was able to hire a crane to remove the roof out of the bin so he could get the last of the corn out.
As the storm blew through last Tuesday night, Obermier estimated it about six or seven miles wide north/south and traveled 30 miles long east/west. He said the largest hail was the size of tennis balls, but he also got a lot of quarter-sized hail. Windows on vehicles were damaged, as well as on buildings.
HURRICANE-STRENGTH WINDS, BIG HAIL
Later, the National Weather Service confirmed the severity of the "intense winds, often accompanied by significant hail." NWS said it affected a large portion of Seward County, with peak winds near 115 miles per hour -- equivalent to the lower end of a Category 3 hurricane or an F2 tornado.
Through the area Thursday, the evidence remained: twisted irrigation systems flipped with wheels in the air; a collapsed cell phone tower; knocked down power poles; and a row of power company trucks on a backroad as crews worked to restore power. NWS added there were also some barns badly damaged or destroyed and windows and siding destroyed on homes.
And then there was the hail. Up to 3 inches wide or larger, along with the high winds, debarked trees and pounded healthy crops until only battered stalks remained. Some fields looked like they hadn't even been planted.
For Nebraska farmers, about halfway through the hail season, they knew other areas of the state had already seen severe hailstorms. Adding in June 14's storms, NOAA's National Storm Prediction center reported there have been 271 hail events already in the state, ranking it second in the country. There have been more hail events in the week since then.
This also wasn't the first hailstorm to hit Obermier's fields this year. A severe storm two weeks prior had taken a northwest to southeast angle and was about 80 miles long, he said. "And we had two or three farms get damaged from that one. And then this one took pretty much the rest of them ... I think we have two fields in northwestern York County, west and north of York that haven't gotten hailed yet."
While Obermier has had severe storms like this before, about every 10 years, this was different. "Usually, they're not as large of an area -- usually they're a small mile or two wide and a mile or two long. You know, these this year have just been large storms that go for a long ways, a lot of miles. You know, we had it in 2014 where we got hailed really bad, but it was only just a few sections of ground, where this year it's pretty much everything."
FARMERS HAD BEEN OPTIMISTIC
But up until early last week, farmers in these counties east of York, Nebraska, had been optimistic about their crops.
"You know, they were looking great," said James Mullally, who farms with his dad Pat west of Seward along Highway 34. "Honestly, the corn was really dark green and growing really fast. We were out. We got everything sprayed. We just had about 200 acres of beans left to spray. And then you're going through out there, and you're just kind of, me and dad were talking, 'gosh, everything's looking great.' Nope. Not anymore."
Mullally's family farm got hit hard.
"You know, you figure it's gonna happen eventually. It's never fun, usually you just hear about these kinds of things. But it's always your turn eventually, I guess."
Pointing across the highway from where he stood Thursday, Mullally described what happened two days earlier. "I was just at home, right over there ... we had that first one (storm), about 10:30, 11 (p.m.), good hail you know, some golf balls, it was pretty bad. You knew it was gonna be bad then," he said. "Then I went to bed and it woke me back up about 1:30. And that was when ... all the damage happened, that second wave."
He estimated at that point the winds reached 100 mph or more.
"I was kind of peeking out the window and lightning strikes and you could see the shadow of the big bin and you could tell it was smashed in, so I figured I better just go back to bed. I guess we'll find out in the morning how bad it is. It can't be good."
MULTIPLE BINS GONE
The next morning, he assessed the damage. Almost 5 inches of rain had also fallen. In the yard he lived, a small temporary lake of water almost flooded his long driveway and nearly reached his house. His house shingles got beat up. Seven irrigation pivots were down.
In another yard east of his house -- where his grandparents first homesteaded around 1970 -- four bins were gone from the concrete pads they were on. "They just got folded up, two blew into the shop," he said. "One blew over the top of my old International truck. Dented that all up and it ended up behind the shop there.
He considers himself lucky though: "It could easily have ended up on top of the shop or inside."
There is a strong pine scent in the yard. "A lot of my trees got shredded," Mullally said. Several of the tall pine trees carefully planted in a row by his grandparents when they first settled there decades ago were ripped clean out or snapped in half by the windstorm. For the last two days, almost nonstop, the Mullally family cut branches, picked them up, and stacked them in a big pile near the crumpled pieces of bins blown far from where they first stood.
He has already contacted his insurance agent -- who is pretty busy. "We got all our coverage that we need for our stuff. So, it's no big deal. Just wait for him to get out here and check it out. You know, start replanting, you gotta leave your strips."
Regarding seeing this happen to his crop when it's worth so much with higher prices, Mullally noted, "That's a real bummer. You know, it's a good year to have some bushels on the farm. So, you know, you get your insurance ... you get your coverage ... but it still would be nice to have those bushels to kind of market with."
For now, he's hoping he can get a crop into the ground, as it grows late to plant corn.
"Yeah, you know, I think beans are going to be fine ... We'll see what happens on the seed corn ground here ... then maybe put some corn in." However, he stressed it's tough to find seed right now, as other farmers in the state who had their crops "smashed up" by hail have also been calling around to buy corn and soybean seed -- and getting it shipped to their areas.
GENERATIONS OF FARMERS
Back south of Waco, as the grain auger rattled away moving grain into a semi, and as his cell phone occasionally rang, Obermier shared his appreciation for the help he received to help clean out the bins and clean up the damage. "We're very fortunate to have good neighbors and good friends to help."
When it came to the storm damage, "I'm the most affected, a lot of them have been affected by other storms and stuff, you know, because there's one went through west of here and so forth." He added it's been bad through this area.
"But we just keep doing what we're doing, we love doing what we do, so we're going to keep doing what we can."
He's not the only one who loves farming. "I got one son that just graduated from college and started farming. What a way to start." Obermier noted his son, 24-year-old Brayden, is a key partner who farms with him and has some of his own ground.
"I'm a fifth-generation farmer," Obermier said proudly. He's farming the land that was homesteaded by his great-great-grandfather, who originally had a mill on the land.
"I live a mile north, over here," he pointed, "we got bins down over there, too, on top of semis ... We're very fortunate, like I said, that is homesteaded ground over there where the house is, and over the years our neighbors rented us ground, and we have a large chunk of ground right here.
"And that's great when you get good crops and you get stuff done, but when you get one storm like this, it's terrible. Like, all these pivots that are upset? They're all ours. Our landlords and ours."
A HELPING HAND
Gary Suhr, who farms near Seward, Nebraska, was one of the friends who came out to help Obermier. "I live in town, in the town of Seward, and we were home and I was in bed and about 10 or 10:30 I heard the hail, so I got up and watched it hail there for about five or 10 minutes and then quit, went back to bed. Well, then another storm came through about between 1 and 2 (a.m.)," he said.
"I didn't see anything over ping-pong ball size, but it was the time, the length, the duration it lasted is what did the damage." The hail came down for five to 10 minutes," Suhr said.
"I have one farm that I'm pretty sure it's got to be replanted. It's corn. No pivots upset. Get some beans and some other corn fields. I have to wait and see how they turn out or what they look like," Suhr added.
The morning after the storm, Obermier called Suhr.
"We talked the next morning after it happened because he's got a farm over, right next to me. And he wants to know if his pivots were standing and so I checked and they were and so I said if you need any help, let me know," Suhr said.
Suhr continued, "Well, he called then this morning and said we're gonna haul corn, trying to get these bins that are missing the roofs out before it rains tonight." Suhr jumped in his truck and headed over, as did other neighbors.
Suhr echoed how farmers in this area were on time or earlier than usual getting their crops planted this spring.
"Now, it's going to be a long, wet harvest, if we can get back in," Suhr said.
Elaine Shein can be reached at email@example.com
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