Twisters Flatten Some Indiana Fields

Tornadoes Cause Some Crop Damage in Eastern Corn Belt

Russ Quinn , DTN Staff Reporter
This satellite/radar composite shows the tracks of storms that moved across Indiana Wednesday afternoon and evening. (Graphic courtesy of the Ft. Wayne, Indiana, National Weather Service office)

OMAHA (DTN) -- Multiple tornadoes ripped across the Eastern Corn Belt Wednesday afternoon and evening, causing damage to towns, farm structures and crops. While several photos of flattened fields made the rounds on social media sites Thursday, the scope of the damage has yet to be determined.

The National Weather Service cited at least eight tornadoes from western to northeastern Indiana into northwestern Ohio Wednesday, according to DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist Bryce Anderson. Their intensity ranged from EF-1 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale (90-100 mile-per-hour winds) to EF-3 (135-160 mph winds). The storms formed in the vicinity of a stalled air mass boundary which runs from the Texas Panhandle northeast to northern Ontario, Canada, he said.

"This is a potent frontal boundary," Anderson said. "The Storm Prediction Center has western Indiana along with central Illinois under a slight risk for severe storms again Thursday."

HOWARD COUNTY, INDIANA, HIT

The city of Kokomo, Indiana, was struck by an EF3 tornado that touched down at 3:24 p.m. Wednesday afternoon, according to the National Weather Service. Howard County, which Kokomo is located in, was declared a state of emergency.

Isabella Chism spent Wednesday evening cleaning up at her family's farm, which was hit by one of the tornadoes. Chism lives and farms with her husband, Kent, and two grown daughters and their husbands near Galveston, which is north of Kokomo near the Howard County-Cass County line.

"We didn't have any of our farm buildings damaged, but our one daughter's house was damaged and we also have damage to our crops," Chism told DTN.

Chism, who is second vice president of the Indiana Farm Bureau, said her daughter's house is not completely destroyed, but it did sustain damage from flying debris, including several tree branches that penetrated the house. Also, a metal picnic table was found in a nearby field half embedded in the earth, she said.

A number of the Chism family's corn and soybean fields were damaged from the tornadoes. The most obvious damage was the crop flattened to the ground. She said she had heard others in the area had corn fields damaged so badly all that was left of the plants was the main stem and little else.

While the family has not been able to assess the full scope of damage to the crops yet, it appears some of their corn crop could be a total loss.

"We have some crops lying flat, and we have some just leaning," she said. "We are more positive the soybeans will be able to be harvested still than we are with the corn."

LIMITED ACRES DAMAGED

While damage to crops like the Chisms experienced is certainly present in Indiana, Bob Nielson, Purdue University Extension corn specialist, said he believes the area of crop damage in the whole state of Indiana will be relatively small.

"The number of acres damaged from the storms has yet to be determined, but I would guess it is going to be a low number just because of the nature of the randomness of tornado damage to crops," Nielson told DTN.

Nielsen said because of the time of year, corn fields flattened by the storm will most likely stay flat. Downed corn can usually grow back some, or gooseneck, upward if a severe windstorm occurs, but this will only happen earlier in the growing season.

The biggest problem corn producers will have with corn lying flat on the ground is contact with soil. Ears touching the ground will absorb more moisture, have a difficult time drying down once the plants are mature and can even mold or sprout, he said.

Very little corn in the state is mature enough to be harvested now, so the damaged crops will have to be left to sit in the field. While farmers can utilize equipment such as reels on corn heads in to attempt to harvest downed corn, the worst of the damaged fields may not be able to be harvested at all, Nielsen said.

Another problem farmers with flattened corn face is there could be a tremendous amount of volunteer corn in the next growing season if the crop is not harvested this fall. With no-till or minimum-till, it is going to be very difficult to get rid of the excessive amount of corn in the soil short of some sort of deep tillage to bury some of the corn, Nielsen said.

One option to removing some corn would be to run cattle on the fields so the livestock can eat the corn and thus limit the amount of volunteer corn in next year's soybean field. However, Nielsen pointed out that Indiana has very little livestock compared to other parts of the Corn Belt, and very few fields in the Hoosier State even have fence lines anymore.

"There really is no easy solution with corn fields flattened to the soil surface; it is not a good situation to be in," he said.

Russ Quinn can be reached at russ.quinn@dtn.com

Follow Russ Quinn on Twitter @RussQuinnDTN

(AG/CZ)

Russ Quinn