Storms spawn tornadoes, drench Delta fields

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — On Sunday evening (May 4), a severe, tornado-spawning storm sent Delta residents scrambling for shelters, basements and closets. By Monday morning, the weather had calmed and damage assessment had begun. But the reprieve from bad weather was temporary: the storms returned Monday and forecasts for the Delta call for rain much of the week.

While not a comprehensive document on post-storm findings, the following includes initial reactions from Extension personnel and producers in affected states.


The Bootheel "dodged a bunch of bullets," says Andy Kendig, Missouri Extension weed specialist. There were reportedly a couple of tornado touchdowns in rural areas. "But I've heard nothing about damage except to trees. Considering what could have been, we're in good shape — including the (University Missouri research station in Portageville). Some big cells just skirted us, and the phone grapevine I've been on says southeast Missouri seems to have fared well compared to other areas."

The Bootheel did get some rain, though, and that's going to delay any planting that was going on.

"We had a fair bit of cotton and rice planted prior to this storm, but there's still a lot of ground that hasn't been planted and won't be for a few days at least. The forecast is calling for rain six out of the next seven days, so there has been some concern about that," says Kendig.

Following the storm, Bobby Phipps, Missouri Extension cotton specialist, said the cotton-producing area of Missouri is far too wet.

"I've heard there's some hail damage, although I haven't seen any yet," said Phipps while driving through Dunklin County. "The soils are thoroughly saturated. Some field ends are flooded. I think we're about a third planted in cotton and in the southern part of the Bootheel some of the cotton has emerged. We don't need any more water, or we'll likely see seedling diseases. Unfortunately, the forecast here is for a lot more rain this week."

Phipps has a word of advice for producers. "It's been my experience that producers are often in a hurry to replant when a weather event like this comes through. It's human nature after something like this storm to walk into a field and see your battered crop and say, 'Those plants are half dead.' What is often forgotten is that the plants are also half alive and can still pull in a good yield."

Phipps says studies have shown that even at one plant per foot, it pays to leave things alone. The yield barely begins to decline at one plant per foot-and-a-half.

"Even if, on a four-leaf plant, hail takes off all four true leaves, you'll only get a 10 percent reduction in yield. You almost have to have the stems cut off to make replanting pay."

In these post-storm conditions, Phipps says, producers need to watch for thrips and keep them off their cotton.


Chism Craig, Tennessee Extension cotton specialist, says things around Jackson, Tenn., are bad. "We have no power, the (University of Tennessee, Jackson) research station has no power. I've been in contact with very few people outside this town, so I'm not sure how things are looking anywhere else. Right now, folks are cleaning up the damage to the downtown area and I'm headed out to the experiment station. The radio stations are just now back on the air."

The experiment station felt the storm's wrath, says Craig. Some of the greenhouses, sheds and outlying buildings are damaged.

"We have trees, light poles and other things knocked down and around. The main building is okay as far as I could tell. I'm not sure about the plots and fields — with the clean-up, I just haven't had time to assess those yet."

The state, says Craig Massey, Tennessee Extension area cotton specialist, "just got fired up with planting cotton — there's probably 15 to 20 percent in the ground. The biggest problems we have are too much water and too many trees down. This certainly puts a kink in our planting. We usually try to start on April 25 and now we're going to be delayed for a week to 10 days."


"We were very, very lucky. I don't think we had much crop damage," says David Wildy, a producer in Manila, Ark. "There was hail around, and I'm sure there will be reports of hail damage coming from other producers later."

Wildy says a tornado "brushed against" his shop and son's home.

"The winds turned over some pivots — which are always a mess to clean up and get back into running condition — but other than that we escaped. There were some damaged homes and residences in Manila, Ark., but there were no fatalities."

Wildy was out planting until late afternoon Sunday — about an hour before the storm hit.

"We're about 70 percent planted, but we'll be down for a couple of days at least. Our fields got about 2 inches of rain here, but the soils are sandy so it shouldn't be long before we're back out. We actually needed the rain, but we certainly didn't need the storms associated with it. It's just the 'bad storm' time of year," he says.

Woodruff County in north central Arkansas was hit really hard — mainly in the McCrory area — says Nikki Schaefer, Woodruff County Extension agent.

"I'm not sure if a tornado actually touched down in McCrory, but there are lots of trees down, damaged houses, windows blown out," says Schaefer. "Lots of people are being forced to move out of their damaged homes. I've heard very little about crop damage. If what's being reported is true, most of the damage actually occurred right here in town."

In the central portion of the state, the area around Antioch, Ark., was hit "pretty hard" by the storm, says Sherry Wesson, White County Extension agent. "My husband and I went down there last night and saw tin wrapped up in power lines, trees and a car turned over. There were a handful of folks hurt, but no one was killed. What this did to crops, we just don't know. It's too early and folks are still checking things out."

Bill Robertson, Arkansas Extension cotton specialist, says he's been working the phone trying to find out what the state's cotton experienced.

"I talked to a producer around Marianna, Ark., this morning. Last Friday, I looked at his cotton that was planted on April 12. The plants were working on second true leaf. He didn't get any hail damage although he did get over an inch of rain over the weekend."

Robertson also spoke with an Extension agent in Mississippi County, Ark.

"He said he was expecting to see some ugly field damage while driving in to work this morning. He said it was wet — most farms in the area got 1.5 to 2 inches of rain — but that's all he saw.

"Only about 5 percent of the cotton is up. We're probably close to 60 percent planted in some areas with most of that planted last week. Overall, this week's planting is going to be slowed down."

"We're in good shape here," says Roger Gipson, Clay County, Ark., Extension agent. "We didn't catch much at all — I got about a tenth of an inch in my rain gauge. It's still early and I haven't been able to drive around much, but from what I've seen the crops look okay. But the ground is wet and we're not going to be planting anything over the next couple of days at least. Last week, we had a storm come through with 68 mile-per-hour winds. That caused some wheat to go down but it could have been much more serious."

Jackson County, Ark., didn't see much weather action either, says Randy Chlapeka, Extension agent. "We had heavy rains but skipped the tornadoes, thank goodness. We may have some rice levees out and things like that. Our planting will be delayed some, but we were way ahead of schedule anyway. Most of our rice, corn and grain sorghum is planted and we were making inroads with the soybean crop."

The Parkin and Earle, Ark., area was also spared the devastating storm. "We got heavy winds, but they were mostly straight line and not the bad gusts," says Dennie Stokes, who runs Stokes Flying Service in both towns. "The worst of the weather was from Highway 42 north. We actually still need a rain here at Parkin and Earle. It's hard to believe, but of all that rain yesterday, we barely got a quarter inch."

If you've had weather-related damage, please e-mail your report to David Bennett: [email protected]

e-mail: [email protected]

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