FIELD W-1 AND THE LITTLE BLACK CLOUD
By Don Myers
Where it happened.
The path of the storm(s).
The following is a true story. For some of the farmers who read this, there is too much detail, but I wanted it to make sense to the non-farm folks who may read it.
The fields on our farm are identified by numbers or numbers and letters. This story takes place in field W-1 in 1987. The highest quality hay is harvested when it is cut at the proper stage of maturity and is harvested without being rained on. Before the technology that we have today it would generally take 3 days of good weather to get hay dry enough to bale. Generally I would never mow unless there would be a forecast for at least 3 days without there being a chance for any rain. I would faithfully listen to Accuweather and National Weather Service before heading to the field to mow. Field W-1 was ready to cut, and there was a good forecast for three days of sunny weather without any chance of rain. Off I went to the field and I mowed W-1 on day one. Once I mow I always keep a close check on the forecast since the weather folks have been known to change their minds from time to time. The evening of day one came and the forecast still called for nice, sunny weather for the next few days.
On the morning of day two there was still no chance of rain in the forecast. Day two was always the time to ted (fluff) the hay so it would dry faster. I always like to let the dew get almost dried off before I ted. I started tedding about 11:00 AM. It was nice and sunny. It didn't look like any chance of rain. There is a small town called Madisonburg situated as the crow flies about 6 miles northeast of our farm on the other side of a mountain. When I was about half done tedding I saw a little black cloud over Madisonburg. I didn't think much about it since there wasn't any chance of rain. Besides, what could one little black cloud do when it was surrounded by blue sky? I kept tedding. As I did I kept an eye on the little black cloud. It kept slowly moving to the west. Since almost all of our storms come from the west, I really wasn't concerned yet. At the time I finished tedding, the little black cloud was now directly north of our farm. There still wasn't any cause for alarm. The sun was shining brightly. I put the tractor and tedder away. Then the little black cloud started moving to the south right toward our farm. About 10 minutes later there was a downpour. We had about an inch of rain in 20 minutes. It didn't rain a mile east of our farm or a mile west of our farm, but it poured on our farm and the hay in field W-1. All logic said that for a weather phenomenon like that to happen was a once in a lifetime occurrence. It had never happened before since my Dad had purchased the farm in 1947.
Now it is time to turn the clock ahead about 5 years. Field W-1 is again seeded to alfalfa. Again the hay was at the right maturity to be cut. Again, I had an excellent forecast from both Accuweather and the National Weather Service for three nice days without any chance of rain. Again I mowed field W-1. At the end of day one the weather forecasts still said it would be nice for two more days without any chance of rain. On the morning of day two the forecasts were still all good. Later in the morning of day two I tedded field W-1. There were not any little black clouds to be seen anywhere. The evening of day two came and the forecasts were still good with no chance of rain on day three.
Day three came and the morning forecasts still called for no chance of rain. I headed to the field and rake the hay. There were about 5 loads to be baled. We have three wagons, but I didn't hire any help (we had a bale thrower) since I could just throw two loads off myself on the barn floor and then unload the rest of it and stack it all that evening when I would have some help.
After lunch I headed to field W-1 with the baler and wagon. My Dad brought the other two wagons out. It was a very pleasant sunny day. I baled the first load. Everything was fine. When I was about half done baling the second load, guess what? There was a little black cloud over Madisonburg. As I continued to bale I watched the little black cloud. Sure enough, it started moving very slowly to the west. I finished baling the second load and hooked up the third wagon and continued to bale. As I baled, the little black cloud kept slowly moving to the west. I kept thinking to myself that it would be impossible for a second little black cloud to visit our farm when there was no chance of rain, especially when I had hay mowed in the same field as the first time. When I was finished baling the third load, the little black cloud was directly north of the farm. By then I wasn't so sure that I shouldn't start taking the little black cloud seriously. Normally I would have just taken one wagon load in, unloaded it, and taken it out and brought in the second wagon. I decided that "just in case" I would back all three in the barn before I started unloading. Just as I had the third wagon about three feet from being in the barn, it started to pour. I got soaked getting the barn doors shut and the tractor put away. The other tractor and the baler were still sitting out in the field. About a half an hour later the rain stopped. We had more then 1.5 inches. Again, it didn't rain a mile west or a mile east of our farm. About three hours later I walked up to get the tractor and baler, and with every step, the ground went squish.
For quite a few years since then, field W-1 has been in corn and soybeans. There have never been any more little black clouds. But, will there be? In the Spring of 2000 I seeded field W-1 back to alfalfa! It was in alfalfa through 2005. After a two year break, it was again seeded to alfalfa in the spring of 2007. Knock on wood!!!!! No new little black clouds have appeared!!!!! :)
We are proud to be members of the Pennsylvania Forage and Grassland Council as well as the American Forage and Grassland Council.