Many a North Dakota farmer has helplessly watched a promising crop get hailed out.
In August of 1912, a ten-mile wide hailstorm swept from the northeast to the southwest, hitting the town of St. Thomas. A Towner County news story read, “Practically all of the windows in St. Thomas were broken by the hail stones, while the wind worked havoc with some of the poorly constructed buildings. The roof of the livery barn was blown off and several other buildings were blown down. A number of granaries on farms in that territory were also blown over,” the story read. “The hailstones measured about three inches and a half in diameter.”
While baseball-size hail is fairly uncommon, there have been reports of stones much larger. In 1895, the Milton Globe reported on a hailstorm that hit Abercrombie. “Hail to the depth of six inches fell on the ground,” the story read. “Holes big enough for a man to put his fist in honeycombed the ground. The center of the storm was only about half a mile wide, (but) a number of farmers had their entire acreage of grain pounded out of existence.”
The article went on to describe one man’s survival. “Andrew Sandall,” the story read, “saved his life by kneeling and sticking his head under his body. His head was cut in numerous places and about 50 bruises were made on his back.” The story went on to say that farther east, hailstones 13 inches around were discovered.
Agatha Jerel Arms homesteaded with her husband near Wimbledon. She wrote of a storm that abruptly descended in July of 1905. “...the temperature was very high and the air seemed to be charged with heat, but...about four o’clock it was considerably cooler,” Arms wrote. “Many clouds were gathering in the northwest...some light and fleecy, some dark and fierce, and others a golden color. Then in just a few minutes the breeze died down, and the whole sky turned black; the clouds were one solid blaze of electricity...the wind came up in gushers, and the air was filled with dust and dirt. Boxes, boards, and tin were flying...” Arms went on. “Then...the rain came in torrents and the hail in chunks, some as large as a good-sized coconut... The storm lasted about ten minutes, and, from four to six miles wide, destroyed everything in its path... Gardens were plastered and grain fields were bare and black.”
James Buttree was an adolescent when he moved to the Grand Forks area with his family in 1881. Later he wrote about the time his father and mother went to town and left the younger children with an aunt in her homesteader’s shack. That night a storm came from the west.
“That was an awful night,” Buttree wrote. “...the hail was terrific, the rain came in torrents, the wind a hurricane. How that little shack hung to its foundations is a conundrum.
The hail cut the tarpaper on the roof, and the water came through in a shower until it couldn’t get away through the cracks between the floor boards... (The) floor was a lake,” he wrote. “(There) were improvised beds on the floor, and they were in the water. No matter where one stood, it was impossible to find a dry place. The hail stones pounded the thin walls until it was almost impossible to make each other heard by shouting. The wind howled, and the lightning flashed constantly while the thunder pealed a terrific cannonade.”
They later learned they weren’t alone. “A mile away,” Buttree wrote, “our neighbor in a more secure household sat in his window with a large field glass, and the continuous lightning enabled him to find us, and he watched us throughout the storm to ascertain if we survived safely.”