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Derecho damages property – and breaks hearts

Everyone will remember the day that the Big Storm hit.

The derecho – a soot-black, boiling thunderhead that was hundreds of miles wide – rolled over large sections of our region last week.

Everyone will remember where they were and what they were doing. My wife and I were visiting family in Kansas City, six hours from our home. We watched our social media feeds as the storm angrily thundered its way across the prairie. Looking at Facebook became a form of doomscrolling.

It quickly became clear from calls with friends and family that the derecho had caused widespread property damage and electrical outages. The most heartbreaking call was with our neighbor lady Jen. When asked how she was doing, Jen sobbed, “Not so good. Our roof is damaged, and we can’t find Sophie!”

Sophie is Jen’s yearling Wheaton Terrier.

My wife and I decided that we had no choice but to cut our visit short. The drive home on the day after the storm seemed to take an eternity. I just wanted to get back and see what sort of hand the storm had dealt us.

My sister said that our parents’ farm had suffered substantial damage. She texted some photos and a sick feeling settled in my gut.

Sophie was still missing, so we put up a Facebook “lost dog” alert. Jen had scoured the neighborhood, asking everyone if they had seen Sophie. Nobody had, but all of our neighbors were kind and caring and said they would keep a sharp lookout. In this part of the world, tough times bring out the best in us.

The closer we got to home the more damage we saw. Enormous trees had been uprooted and there were sheets of twisted sheet metal scattered randomly in fields.

Our house seemed to have fared pretty well. There is a branch jutting out of a south wall and flying debris had shattered a bedroom window. Broken glass and dirt were scattered throughout the entire room.

The grove of trees that guards our home was not so lucky. About 10 trees had toppled onto the nearby township road, blocking it completely. A vast number of trees in our grove were either ripped out by the roots or were broken off. Trees that had survived a century’s worth of storms had been snapped like toothpicks.

But the worst awaited us at the farm where my parents had lived. A former calf barn, now used for machinery storage, had disappeared. The wind had uprooted the entire shed and hurled it against a pair of 6,000-bushel grain bins that sat nearby. It was as if a giant child had had a temper tantrum and angrily threw his toy barn at his toy grain bins.

A neighbor had been storing his pontoon boat in the barn. The boat was still sitting exactly where he had parked it. The rig didn’t have a single scratch.

My brother, our father, and I had built that calf barn ourselves with assistance and supervision from a professional carpenter. We hadn’t skimped on materials; that barn was built to last.

The bins and the barn are now only so much junk. Years of physical and financial investment evaporated in seconds.

That’s a common refrain across the region. Innumerable structures were damaged; many were totally destroyed. We watched a YouTube video shot by a dairy farm employee who was milking cows as the storm tore the roof off the milking parlor. The barn’s interior became a whirlwind of flying debris.

One of our neighbors said that his weather gizmo recorded a peak wind gust of 107 mph. That would put it in the same bracket as a Category 2 hurricane.

Our nephew Jeremiah lost the roof of his house. The wind sucked the blow-in insulation out of the attic and deposited on his neighbor’s lawn. Well, it was a product that had the word “blow” in its name.

As we motored homeward the day after the storm, I received a call from our neighbors to the north. The storm had scattered the majority of their calf huts hither and yon and many of their baby calves were running loose. But even as our neighbor grappled with the mayhem, he called to report that his young nephew, Wyatt, had seen a dog matching Sophie’s description in a nearby gravel pit. Wyatt had taken a photo; the dog certainly looked like Sophie.

We texted Jen his number. Jen and the neighbor rushed to the gravel pit where the unharmed Sophie was soon found.

A tearful reunion that took place in an old gravel pit served as a small antidote to our collective sense of heartbreak.

About the Author

Jerry Nelson
 Jerry Nelson and his wife, Julie, live in Volga, South Dakota, on the farm that Jerry’s great-grandfather homesteaded in the 1880s. Daily life on that farm provided fodder for a long-running weekly newspaper column, “Dear County Agent Guy,” which become a book of the same name. Dear County Agent Guy is available at

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