Flattened Boone County corn field shows wind’s might

Thursday, August 23, 2007 | 8:26 a.m. CDT; updated 9:00 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 13, 2008
Raymond Wood estimates that more than 50 percent of his cornfield off Route J in north Columbia was damaged by an Aug. 12 storm.

COLUMBIA — Ray Wood has been farming 45 years, and he had never seen anything like it.

The day after a gust front packing damaging winds rolled through mid-Missouri, Wood drove to check one of his corn fields along Route E just north of Columbia. He was stunned by what he saw.

Much of the corn stood exactly as it did before the windstorm. But a few rows in from the blacktop, Wood saw a sizeable swath of corn that was flattened into the earth. A smaller and more circular patch of corn on the other side of the road had the same peculiar look.

It wasn’t just a stalk down here and there. All of the corn that was down — one of the areas looked nearly the size of a football field — was, in Wood’s words, “snapped clean off” at or near the base of the stalk.

Wood has seen plenty of corn damage from high winds over the years, where the corn is leaning to one side, he said. He called it “goosenecking.”

But Wood, who got his agricultural degree from MU in 1961 and has been farming since 1963, said the freakish wind damage was the “first time I ever seen it like that.”

State climatologist Pat Guinan said the high winds that blew through the night of Aug. 12, causing widespread power outages, were part of an outflow boundary ahead of thunderstorms that created wind speeds of 45 to 65 mph across a large part of northern and east central Missouri.

Wood said the flattened corn “looks like water came through, but it’s wind.” He said he believes the reason the corn was broken in just a few large areas was because the wind was funneled through the hills on either side of the Perche Creek bottoms in the area known by locals as the Twin Bridges. He said it looked like the wind had come down, scooped out some areas and left others seemingly untouched.

Scott Truett, a forecaster at the National Weather Service in St. Louis, said that sometimes during severe thunderstorms, a “downburst wind” can hit a specific surface area and fan out, leaving the rest of the area undamaged. Truett compared the crop damage to when a big thunderstorm affects a certain neighborhood area and hits one or two houses hard and leaves the others unaffected.

Bill Wiebold, a professor of plant sciences at MU, said the phenomenon of corn stalks snapping off is called “green snap.” Before corn reaches full maturity, Wiebold said, the stem is still full of water and very turgid, which makes it easier to break.

Wiebold said that corn snapped at the base is difficult to harvest because combine equipment isn’t designed to take plants that are already on the ground.

“The harvest becomes slow, and you miss a lot,” he said. “It’s a bad thing.”

Although Wood estimated that 50 percent to 60 percent of his six acres of corn was damaged, but he still hopes to salvage up to 90 percent using special equipment. He’s hoping the weather is favorable between now and harvest time. Each additional rain, he said, will make it more difficult to salvage the corn that was flattened.

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